The fresh and the unexpected
FreshMed Mediterranean Cuisine
To be honest, I don’t think I can provide a good definition of what Mediterranean food is. Before eating at FreshMed Mediterranean Cuisine, a small restaurant in a suburban strip mall, I thought that “Mediterranean” only referred to what people in Greece or southern Italy eat: a diet heavy in olive oil, hummus, salad, pita and kebab. But this restaurant certainly broadened my definition. In addition to the food I’d imagined it would serve—gyros, falafel, salad with feta cheese—FreshMed also serves a variety of other dishes from across a wide range of cultures.
That’s not a bad thing. FreshMed creates unique dishes that cater to everyone, not just a single genre or style. Interestingly, within a few blocks from FreshMed, there are Lebanese, Indian and Persian restaurants, and FreshMed’s idea of Mediterranean includes all of these cuisines, plus more.
For example, the eatery’s Facebook page advertises Afghan, Pakistani and Chinese food. But on a recent visit, there was a sign for an Indian and Pakistani lunch buffet for $6, so that’s what I chose. It’s a pretty good deal, despite not knowing what the dishes are—there were no labels—but they seemed to be a stir-fried eggplant dish, chicken tikka masala, curry chickpeas, lentils, rice, a salad bar and a few stir-fried dishes that I couldn’t identify. The tikka masala, perhaps because I’m the most accustomed to it, was my favorite: creamy, spicy and hearty.
The salad bar featured a tomato-and-iceberg-lettuce salad, with a spicy salsalike sauce and tzatziki sauce serving as dressing. I’m pretty sure this salad is neither Indian nor Pakistani, but it was pretty good. Nevertheless, I decided not to revisit the buffet again, because some of the regular menu items wound up impressing me much more.
On several other occasions, I ordered takeout, and the experience was completely different. One smorgasbord of a dinner order included baba ghanoush, something called Mediterranean Nacho, a chicken panini, and a combination platter with Kuftakabob (minced-beef kebab), chicken kebab, salad and rice.
The baba ghanoush tasted a bit bitter. Either the eggplant’s skin was burned before it was ground up, or this was purposeful, and I’m not used to such bitterness in this dish. On the combination platter, the Kuftakabob tasted delicious—it’s a spicy, juicy meat. The chicken kebab, on the other hand, veered toward the dry side.
The Mediterranean Nacho and the chicken panini are examples of what the restaurant does well: culinary mashups that aren’t derivative, but instead rely heavily on flavor and innovation. The nachos are also a lesson on layering texture: a bed of lettuce and tomato, pita chips, hummus, tzatziki sauce, feta cheese, a special house sauce, and a choice of chicken, eggplant, falafel or lamb. On separate occasions, I ordered chicken and lamb as toppings, and both shined—somehow playing nice with all the other savory flavors.
FreshMed’s paninis also stand out. The bread is sweet, thicker than one might expect, and pressed nicely on a grill, with char marks on both sides. On a takeout order, a grilled chicken panini somehow retained all the smell of a smoky grill for the car ride home, and tasted equally smoky and delicious once I consumed it. The lamb gyro panini isn’t as aromatic as the chicken, but offers adequate peppery spice. Each sandwich is served with a delicious house-made garlic aoli-style sauce.
Still, after several visits, I’m still not really sure if I’ve seen or eaten any Afghan or Chinese food at FreshMed. I’m also confused about the real cultural or ethnic origin of any of these so-called Mediterranean foods. Still, most dishes have unique flavors, are somewhat healthy, and it’s refreshing that the restaurant focuses on having fun with a diverse menu. It’s worth visiting, even if you have no idea what you’ll get.