Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mediterranean, Your Way … at Mezeh

For many, healthy eating can be a struggle during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re running errands or preparing for a full day of work, finding a quick and healthy option for lunch or dinner can sometimes be a formidable task.

For Mezeh, it’s what they do.

One of the company’s leaders, partner Steve Walker, said Mezeh fills a void with Mediterranean food, offers a healthy fast casual option, and gives people an opportunity to try unique concepts on a tight schedule.

“We’re very unique,” he says. “There are not many people who do what we do. We don’t focus on one region.”

Mezeh’s first restaurant opened in 2013, with the State College location opening a decade later. The chain has restaurants across the mid-Atlantic region.

The word “mezeh” doesn’t mean one specific thing. Walker says it can mean different things in countries across the Mediterranean and Middle East—like small plate, gathering, or flavor. CEO Saleh Mohamadi came up with the name and spelling.

“It kind of goes well with the number of different places and offerings that we offer,” Walker says.

Mezeh is a labor of love. Walker says the restaurant focuses on fresh, bold, and natural foods that are free of preservatives and chemicals.

“We make all of our food fresh every day and we’re very proud of that,” Walker says.

He says store general managers and employees work really hard to maintain such a vast variety of fresh products.

“It is very challenging to do with the number of choices and offerings,” he says.

But variety of choices is a cornerstone at Mezeh. Once a customer selects their mode (bowl, flatbread wrap, or pita pocket), they face an assembly line full of colorful options. Customer creativity and adventurous palates are encouraged at Mezeh.

Colorful, varied options await at Mezeh (Photo by Hannah Pollock)

“The exciting thing is you can get whatever you want,” Walker says. “You have the option and the freedom to pick and choose.”

Customers select greens and grains, like arugula and basmati rice, before moving on to proteins like chicken kebab, steak shawarma, or lamb kefta. After that, customers can choose as many toppings as they want.

Toppings range in texture and taste. Options include Lebanese tabbouleh, hummus, spicy feta dip, caramelized eggplant, chickpea salad, pita croutons, pearl couscous, roasted corn salsa, and more.

“We recommend that you choose at least five to eight toppings,” Walker says.

Customers can create savory and spicy or sweet and tangy combinations with in-house pickled vegetables.

“It’s really about what you like. There’s no wrong combination,” Walker says.

He recommends customers finish with a pickled item, such as beets, cabbage, turnips, or onions. While the full jars customers see in the restaurant are just décor, each location does its own pickling.

“It adds a nice finish to the bowl, wrap, or pita,” he says.

Walker’s personal favorites include chicken shawarma (protein), baba ganoush (topping, a smoky eggplant dip), and spicy mango sauce.

Other popular protein options include the shredded lamb and falafel. The caramelized eggplant (topping) offers a mix of savory and sweet, while the spicy feta dip (topping) gives the meal a little kick.

Customers finish off their meals with a sauce like the ever-popular tzatziki—a cool dill cucumber flavor—or a balsamic vinaigrette or the spicy harissa. Each bowl is served with half of a freshly baked pita. Ovens continue baking pita all day for peak freshness.

Sometimes having too many options can overload a customer, so Mezeh’s menu suggests favorite combinations.

“We have selections on our menu board that can help make it easier,” Walker says.

Mediterranean pizzas (online orders only due to longer cooking time) and newly launched wraps bring more opportunities for diners to explore new flavors and textures. The Turkish pide marries steak shawarma, tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, and parsley, while the mango chicken combines the sweet and spicy through chicken kebab, tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, chopped mango, cilantro, and spicy mango sauce.

Mezeh also pours organic, “healthier” versions of sodas and non-carbonated drinks from the Tractor Beverage Company. The offerings include tea and lemonade as well as unique flavors like mandarin cardamom, cucumber soda, and Kola Cola.

Ultimately, it’s all about the flavorful and healthy for Mezeh. Diners can adapt their dishes to any flavor profile or dietary restriction. Mezeh lists full allergen and dietary restriction on its website. T&G

Hannah Pollock is a freelance writer in State College.