The Mediterranean Grill

By | January 13, 2006

The Mediterranean Grill
5824 Forbes Ave, Squirrel Hill
Mon – Sat 11:30-9:30

This Lebanese place is one of the best kept secrets of the Mediterranean scene in Pittsburgh. Actually, that is the subject of much debate, as I know people who might say they think Kassab’s or Aladdin’s is better, but this just reflects the fact that we are blessed with a number of delicious Mediterranean places from which to choose. All three are good but my personal favorite is The Mediterranean Grill, for the food is so consistently amazing, and the people who run the place are so nice and friendly.

Firstly, you should know how to get there. It is on Forbes Avenue in the thoroughfare of Squirrel Hill, but many don’t even know it is there. Their sign is diminutive, they don’t advertise, and the place is in a basement, so you might go your entire life without having the best grape leaves in existence – what a terrible thought! It is right around the Chocolate Moose, and you have to do down stairs to get to it.

Reed and I always get a bunch of a la carte items because we’ve found them to be much better than any of the entrees or sandwiches (which we don’t really recommend). I’m just gonna go through my favorites one by one. The vegetarian grape leaves are the best. You can get them with meat in them, and that’s good too, but the veggie ones are so out of this world that I can’t order meaty ones at all. Their Baba Ganooj is the best in the city. It is very tart and lemon-y, but not at all bitter like Baba can be. It causes a delightful pucker and a lasting impression. Baba all by itself with some warm pita could be a fulfilling lunch. For a starter, the lentil soup is really wonderful too. It is tomato-based and has large chunks of potatoes in it. It is tangy, a little thick because of the mostly disintegrated lentils, and one of the best soups I’ve ever had. This is true with every visit that I get the lentil soup. A lot of times I’ll just get lentil soup and a salad for lunch and call it quits. The salad, by the way, is absolutely dreamy. It is made of crisp iceberg tossed with Med. Grill’s amazing creamy garlic dressing and absolutely covered with tiny little shreds of feta that melt in your mouth, plus a tomato and cucumber or two thrown in for good measure.

They also serve a couple of favorites that I do not always get. The moussaka here is my fave moussaka in the ‘Burgh. Moussaka is kind of like a Mediterranean Shepard’s Pie, and the way it is prepared varies widely from restaurant to restaurant and family to family, but it always includes beef or lamb, eggplant, and potato layers. Here, the moussaka is ground beef in a gravy topped with eggplant and onion slabs, then topped with potato slabs, and then the whole thing it topped with a 1-2” thick layer of Béchamel sauce. Oh it is so good.

And for the adventurous, there is the Raw Kibbie. Served only on Friday and Saturday nights for freshness purposes, Raw Kibbie is raw ground lamb. To eat with it, you are served raw onion slices and olive oil. Now, call me crazy (you may be already), and I know…raw onions….raw lamb…raw raw…but it is so good! The lamb is sort of paté like – and I don’t even like paté but I love this stuff. I recommend it to all people who aren’t weak in the knees at the prospect of eating raw ground meat. If you do decide to get it, know that it is a lot of food, so you may want to go in a group of 4 or 6 and all share it together in addition to a bunch of other a la carte items.

There are other yummy dishes too. They serve a dish called Malfoof, which is a cabbage roll stuffed with (cooked) ground beef and rice. Malfoof is subtly flavored and can be really amazing, which it is about 80% of the time. Sleek is a spinach, black-eyed pea, bulgur creation which you squeeze lemon on and eat with pita and is wonderful. The Shish Kebab is simply a skewer of grilled lamb cubes, and is also delicious. I was struck on my last visit just how well the lamb flavor is showcased, and there are never any funky, unidentifiable bits in the meat. You can’t for wrong with a skewer of meat at this place.

Also, I always get their iced tea. Most of you probably don’t care, but if there are any iced tea connoisseurs out there, you have got to try the iced tea at this place. It is lemony and minty and utterly refreshing, almost rejuvenating. It is exquisite in its own right.

The atmosphere of the place is comfortable and casual, and the wait staff just can’t be beat. The whole restaurant is family run: that means mom is cooking in back, brother handles the books, and the girls are all waiting the tables whilst putting themselves through college and whatnot. The girls are really so nice (and hotties too) that I always leave them extra tip for their fast and friendly service.

In the end, this restaurant has been one of my favorites for years, and continues to live up. Sometimes, when I am trying to go to sleep at night, I think about how I will cope without access to their grape leaves if I ever move away. What will I do when I have an unstoppable craving for their lentil soup, or that crisp, refreshing salad? What about the moussaka?! I don’t know what I’ll do…but for now I’ll just keep giving The Mediterranean Grill my devoted business.

Vegetarian Grape Leaves
Baba Ganooj
Lentil Soup
Iced Tea

Don’t Get:
Felafil or gyro sandwiches (at least don’t get them the first time you go)

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