Beyond your bubble
Mediterranean Bakery and Cuisine offers delicious shawarma and baba ganoush off the beaten path
Mediterranean Cuisine1433 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825
Most of us tend to live in a bubble. Whether we mean to or not, we find our comfort zones and don’t stray far from them. That’s especially true for food.
But step outside of your go-to meals, and you expose yourself to a multitude of new flavors and cultures. My life is vastly richer for the many immigrants who bring their culinary traditions to Sacramento.
So I’m surprised I’d never found the Mediterranean Bakery grocery store before now. It’s been in Arden-Arcade for 18 years, an indispensable trove of Middle Eastern ingredients. In October 2015, they opened a restaurant in the spot next door.
The brightly lit space consists mostly of a kitchen with large ovens and shawarma spits. Order at the counter from the ever-changing large-screen menu above.
For starters, the silken hummus ($2.99) and baba ganoush ($3.49) are both liberally garnished with green olive oil and ground sumac. They come with thick wedges of freshly baked bread and look fairly similar. But taste them and the smokiness of the roasted eggplant clearly indicates the baba ganoush.
The hummus features less acid and palate-clearing garlic than many versions, making it good on everything, but it primarily serves as a great complement to the side of pickles and olives ($2.49).
You’ll also want to dip stuffed grape leaves ($2.99 for 10 pieces) in the hummus. Their lemony rice filling remains moist without being oily and bursts with fresh dill flavor.
Abundant herbs also perfume the freshly made Mediterranean salad ($3.49). While the winter tomatoes clearly weren’t ideal, diced cucumber and copious amounts of oregano and mint made for a refreshing combination.
One of the real stars here is the kibbeh ($10.99 for six pieces), a rare treat. Bulgur wheat surrounds ground beef and lamb, flavored with a touch of cinnamon and shaped into little footballs. Fried to a deep brown, they ooze meaty juices. Temper their richness with the slivers of pickles and onions served alongside the dish.
The falafel ($2.69 for six pieces) also show the kitchen’s skill. Without any of the dryness or nubby bits that mar some versions, these are exceptional. They come with a light tahini dip and more of those slivered pickles.
A variety of inexpensive breads are made in house. Manakish za’atar ($1.39) and lahmajoun ($1.89) look like mini-pizzas, with a thick layer of fragrant za’atar for the former—made of fresh thyme, sesame seeds, lemony sumac and olive oil.
Ground spiced meat tops the lahmajoun, but it’s best eaten while it’s hot. The flavor suffered as the bread cooled.
The cheese pies ($1.89 each) also impressed. Topped with sheep’s milk cheese mixed with mint, it made for a distinctive flavor combination.
Shawarma is one of the best items on offer and very popular. Mediterranean Bakery sells about 80 pounds by mid-afternoon, and then another 40 pounds at night.
The juicy beef shawarma sandwich ($5.99) comes on diamond-shaped samoon bread flecked with sesame seeds. Stuffed with meat, onions, pickles, tomatoes and tahini, it’s a completely satisfying meal.
You can also order the shawarma meat as a platter with rice ($9.99) and by the pound.
Mediterranean Bakery offers three kinds of jewel-toned fresh juice drinks daily ($2.99). It often has a Lebanese-style lemonade with mint and serves an enjoyable sweet date and rosewater combination called jallab and a strikingly red blood orangeade.
Middle Eastern desserts require a solid sweet tooth, and there are always several types available at the restaurant. One of the best was a small semolina cake called basbouseh ($0.75) that was soaked with sugar syrup and served warm.
We sampled several nut and phyllo tidbits, like the pistachio-laded balourieh ($2.49) and a divinely gooey baklava ($1.49) as well.
Unfortunately, the strip-mall restaurant feels stark, overly bright and not conducive to lingering. But it’s the menu that beckons. Eating at Mediterranean Bakery and Cuisine offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, albeit briefly. Go for the expertly prepared food, but return to support the melting pot that is Sacramento. Simply step outside your bubble.