The menu is mainly Mediterranean at Taziki's, the cheery casual eatery that filled the former West End location of Zola. With so many olives and feta crumbles strewn across fluffy salads and grilled entrées of spice-dusted tilapia, shrimp, tenderloin and lamb, the Birmingham-based chain definitely has that fresh-from-the-Cradle-of-Civilization flavor.
But if you read between the menu lines of hummus, dolmades and basmati, you'll find a few nods to the New World — namely pimento cheese salad, fish tacos and spanakopita rollups, which a recent posting on Taziki's Facebook page aptly described as "a fancy word for spinach & grilled chicken wrapped up in a griddled flour tortilla."
As it turns out, Taziki's — which also has a Cool Springs location and one coming soon to the Green Hills location of the bygone Shintomi — is a little bit more of a multicultural mash-up than its "Mediterranean Cafe" moniker implies. But what the hell, we live in a melting pot, so you may as well put some ruffled potato chips with that gyro.
We don't usually make head-to-head comparisons between restaurants, meaning we don't usually say things like, "Cantina Laredo is to Mexican food what P. F. Chang's is to Chinese." But if we did, we'd be tempted to say that in terms of atmosphere, Taziki's is the Moe's Southwestern Grill of Greek-Med cuisine. We kind of wish the staff had shouted a boisterous welcome when we arrived and took our place in the ordering line. They didn't, but not because they weren't paying attention. In fact, on two occasions with large ungainly orders, our food consistently arrived fast, fresh and accurate, delivered by attentive, friendly staff.
If you're dining with a group, the mezedes platter offers a fresh array of appetizer favorites, including cumin-tinged hummus, grape leaves stuffed with warm yellow rice and laced with lemon juice, and the cool yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce from which the restaurant takes its name, served with toasted pita points.
A highlight of our meals was the Greek lemon chicken soup, a golden broth with a hint of citrus, loaded with basmati rice, strings of chicken and shredded carrot. Available for takeout for $8.50 a quart, this soup could become a new favorite cold remedy.
At first glance, the menu can overwhelm, with sections dedicated to sandwiches, gyros, salads and so-called "Feasts." But there's a lot of overlap in the items. Here's a rough flow-chart approach that could save you time, not to mention the embarrassment of indecision when you reach the front of the ordering line and the pressure's on:
Choose a grilled protein from a list that includes beef tenderloin, lamb, shrimp and tilapia. Do you want a handheld meal wrapped in a warm, thick toasted pita? Yes? Then order a gyro, which swaddles the meats with various vegetables and dressings, such as taziki and skordalia (garlic sauce).
Or explore the sandwich menu's creative pile-ons, such as tenderloin with grilled onions, Swiss cheese and horseradish; pork loin with tomato chutney aioli; grilled eggplant with tapenade, feta and roasted red peppers; and pimento cheese on toasted buttermilk bread. Gyros and sandwiches come with chips and a choice of roasted potatoes, basmati rice, pasta salad, fruit or tomato-cucumber salad. (The last of these choices was excellent, lightly tangy and threaded with fresh herbs and pink onion.)
If you don't want a handheld meal, decide whether you want your protein with a complementary carbohydrate of either roasted new potatoes or rice. If the answer is yes, go for the feast, which includes a generous bed of mixed greens, sliced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, feta, pink onion, olives and cucumbers, along with the carb of your choice. (We recommend the quartered potatoes, which were cooked until they achieved the texture of mashed spuds inside an oven-browned jacket.)
If you don't want the companion carb, stick with Greek salad options, which put the protein on top of a slightly larger bed of greens and are slightly less expensive.
As far as the proteins go, we preferred shrimp, lamb and beef over pork loin and tilapia, both of which were mildly overcooked for our taste. Nonetheless, the quality of all the meats tempted us to return to explore the takeout meals of grilled chicken, roasted pork loin, roasted leg of lamb, and whole baked chicken stuffed with rosemary and lemon, which are designed to serve four people. The menu advises calling by 2 p.m. to order a meal for pickup after 4 p.m. We called at 3:30 p.m. to order a roast chicken and were told it would take two hours to cook. Sure enough, two hours later, we picked up the chicken, which was plump and fresh from the oven, with gorgeous crisp bronzed skin. The succulent bird was about twice the size of a supermarket rotisserie hen and came with a large salad, choice of roasted potatoes or rice, and a pint of taziki with spice-dusted pita chips. The $20 price tag for four or more people catapults Taziki's into the top ranks of cheap eats, while raising the bar for takeout cuisine.
Just as Taziki's not-so-orthodox menu of Greek delights offers PB&J alongside hummus and dolmades, so does its dessert roster comfortably cross international boundaries. In addition to the obligatory baklava — a melt-in-your-mouth layering of phyllo, nuts and sweet syrup, Taziki's offers a spongy slice of dark chocolate cake with Richmond icing. Sure, it's about as Greek as pimento cheese salad. Then again, chocolate — like fresh, well-priced food — knows no borders.
Eggs don't have casein
@TobintheGnome Community Coffee is grown in Louisiana.
Hey Tob, guess they shouldn't serve any bourbon made with corn from the midwest and…
As I understand it, Husk only uses ingredients grown or raised in the Southeast.