A Trio of Mediterranean Dining
Just when you thought you couldn't possibly get any shawarma, right?
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Sept. 4, 2020
I blame high school geography class for making it so I can't think "Mediterranean" without also thinking, automatically, "the Bosporus." That's aka the Strait of Istanbul, that Bosporus, of course; and it's the natural waterway forming part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. But it does us little good to know that, and it's irrelevant to this trio of eateries – except that we're talking about the Mediterranean here, and how the culinary cultures therein are being expressed in local venues that you really should know about if you like good food.
But the Mediterranean Sea laps up against many shores, so there's also the Middle East and the northern coast of Africa to consider, as well as – oh, you get the idea. And right now we're recommending these three outposts of culinary traditions from around those parts, each in a different neighborhood of Austin.
Devil May Care500 W. Sixth, 512/767-6052
Here's where Mediterranean cuisine may well reach its apotheosis, as chef Jonathon Sterling is doing things with beef and lamb and veggies and grains that take everything on the menu to that "next level" people always talk about. I could go on, wiping the drool that gathers about my lips from just thinking of the excellent meals I've enjoyed here (the hangar steak shawarma, the lamb ribs with that pomegranate glaze), but will only mention that I'm not much for falafel, right? Because chickpeas? Except that the falafel at Devil May Care is approximately half-chickpea, half-potato, and results in such exquisitely fried morsels of yum – crispy on the outside, moist and almost creamy on the inside – that suddenly I'm wanting a falafel subscription to get maybe a dozen of the things delivered every day of my life. And that's the humble falafel ball, FFS; imagine the commensurate elevation of what's already fancier in such cuisine. And Devil May Care's bar program is of similar panache. That cocktail called the Chrysalis, with its Irish gin, butterfly pea flower syrup, ginger syrup, and lemon, for instance? Liquid perfection. But here's the thing: Everything about this place is as snazzy as the food. It's so gorgeously appointed inside (and on its open-air rooftop terrace) that it makes the building's former incarnation as Bess Bistro seem pedestrian by comparison. What an elegantly curated, international jet-set vibe, tell you what. Whether for the food or the design aesthetic or the excellent service, this is where you take people when you want to impress them like whoa.
MezzeMe4700 W. Guadalupe #9, 512/900-8200
Now this is more of a working journo's typical speed: No fancy digs here, just a bright clean store in the Triangle (next to Mandola's, no less) with a glorious array of noms that will satisfy your palate and your guts without taking your wallet to the cleaners. Whether you're getting the lamb burger (with baby arugula, feta cheese, pickled red onions and cucumber, and doused with tzatziki sauce) or that meltingly tender Mediterranean-style salmon steak or just a big bowl of depression-thwarting lemon chicken orzo soup, you're gonna end up happily stuffed. Oh, and, reader, you may be more familiar with Hyde Park Bar & Grill's Horseshoe entrée, yes? That big ol' pile of ground beef covered with the beloved stalwart's famous fries and other fixins? Please note that MezzeMe has something very like a Mediterranean version of that savory belly-buster: the Deluxe Doner Fries. Mmmm, you're welcome.
Abo Youssef2101 Manor Rd., 512/815-6804
Or maybe you want the kind of gyros and shawarmas and salads you might encounter at a cart along an avenue in some urban hub like Morocco? That kind of deep, flavorful, street-level goodness, dished up like it was coming from a food truck? Well, how about an actual food truck, then – a bright Airstream trailer, as helmed by indefatigable chef Samir on Manor Road? Abo Youssef is in a parking lot across from Thunderbird Coffee, in the middle of a restaurant row that boasts a crowd of brick-and-mortars offering excellent fare – and still this trailer draws in the aficionados with a variety of spicy wraps (and full plates) of beef and lamb and chicken, a tempting tetralogy of desserts, and, OMG, that fresh lime-and-mint juice to wash it all down with. Say, isn't this place a three-time Austin Chronicle First Plates winner? You bet your Bosporus it is, citizen.