If you want to understand the Mediterranean Gyro Grill —the urbane Middle Eastern restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall — you could do worse than to look at the plate of Chicken Shawarma there, the culinary anchor to the long, multi-faceted menu that are this restaurant’s reason for being.
You will find curled grape leaves, sweetly austere rice and vegetables stuffed in imported leaves sided with homemade tzatziki, and some briny, lightly breaded and fried Kibbeh-ground bulgur, stuffed with meat and nuts.
Mini-balls of falafel are strewn next to baba ganouj, almost there as much for their crunch as for their bright flavor. The baba ganouj itself, half an inch thick, is impossibly smooth and served just to the point when it is maximally luscious.
You will eat these in a few bites without pausing to reflect on the thousands of air miles, centuries of technique and precise timing that have come together in this incredible food set in front of you. And you are not meant to reflect — I don’t think.
Mediterranean Gyro Grill has become locally famous for being the authentic locale for true Mid-East flavors. A Mediterranean palace (such as it is) that refuses to do anything on the cheap, much to its customers fervent delight.
From the time the doors opened, this mandate towards the authentic was seen as a true necessity for success. Mediterranean Gyro Grill’s founder, Chef Jay Barbour, has been in the restaurant business for nearly 25 years and this life of experience shines through in the style and passion he has for his food and his clientele.
“Our clientele is everything to us,” Barbour said. “Everything we do is to satisfy our guests. We believe in what we do. We believe in our food, our service and our passion for getting it right.”
So at Mediterranean Gyro Grill, that baba ganouj may be followed by a small plate of hummus, organic and homemade; the small zaatar, mixed Middle Eastern spices, herbs and sesame sprinkled with olive oil and baked on a homemade pita; or a spring composition of tabouli — cut parsley, tomato, cucumber and onion slices mixed with cracked wheat, olive oil and lemon. And, of course, that strongly spiced yet amazingly balanced shish kabob of beef and lamb, which is the chef’s secret weapon.
Some customers can’t get enough of the specialty of the house, the gyro, served simply as a sandwich, in a salad or even on a pizza. Others love the maoussaka — layers of eggplant, potatoes and ground meats all lovingly topped with house made béchamel sauce.
On my last visit, I was captivated by the pillowy (and of other worldly delicate appearance) spanakopita with its crunchy filo-crust, stuffed with fresh organic spinach, pomegranate juice, feta cheese, onions and minced herbs.
I enjoyed this classic dish with a new classic wine called ksara, a beautifully balanced white wine from (I can’t believe this) the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. This indicative blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon was crisp, bright and a great surprise!
And then comes the baklava (you can get either pistachio or walnut), with its complex layers of flavors, topped in local honey, of course, and made in-house each morning.
This casual dining mecca is a solid piece in the tapestry of the flourishing Federal Way food scene. All the Mediterranean Gyro Grill asks from you is an open mind and a willingness to let your taste buds travel to an area of the world where your feet might dare to tread.
In exchange, you will spend an hour or so in an elevated state of being.
Mediterranean Gyro Grill is located at 34024 Hoyt Road, SW. For information, call 253-874-1144.
Federal Way resident Robert Colbert is a food and wine enthusiast.