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Mediterrano dishes up a variety of Greek foods

Background

When Mediterrano opened its doors on Dec. 21, it filled two vacancies in the North Hills.

A long-defunct convenience store on Babcock Boulevard has been transformed into a warm and welcoming restaurant with a mission of serving the cuisines of Mediterranean countries with an emphasis on Greek food.

"No one was doing Greek cuisine and I thought there was a niche for this that I could fill," says Mediterrano's owner and executive chef Frank Erdeljac. "The idea behind Mediterrano was we would have Greek cuisine as the core menu and, once we get on our feet, we will seasonally introduce special dishes from France, Morocco, Lebanon and Italy."

The business is actually a family venture, Erdeljac says.

It utilizes family recipes from his wife Katina's Greek heritage as well as others he has collected from Greek chefs while visiting the country. His son, Michael, works in the kitchen and his daughter, Helena, a college student who spent the past two summers studying in Greece, serves as the restaurant's general manager.

"We plan not to just offer food but teach the customer and give them exposure into the culture with food, music, art and architecture," he says.

Diners are handed a pronunciation dictionary of Greek words to accompany the menu.

He's also considering holding guest chef events on Monday nights where diners could sign up to help the chef prepare the meal before sitting down to eat it.

Atmosphere

Mediterrano's bright decor and friendly staff provide a warm welcome on a wintry evening. The tiny dining area with its tangerine walls, cloth-covered tables, bits of Mediterranean bric-a-brac and photos from sunny, blue-skied Grecian locales temporarily transports diners from the dark snowy realities beyond the plate-glass windows. Greek music plays in the background.

Right now there are a scant six tables that provide seating for 18. Demand can exceed capacity on some weekend evenings. Capacity corresponds to the availability of parking spaces in the restaurant's lot.

Erdeljac plans to bring the seating up to 25 in the near future and possibly add tables outside when warmer weather arrives. Right now, it's best to call ahead to secure a reservation, which the restaurant will happily make even for parties of two.

A young, polite and eager staff works diligently to please customers. They're fairly knowledgeable about ingredients and menu items and willing to get answers when they aren't. Among waitstaffers are natives of Russia, Egypt and Bosnia, which sometimes makes communication a challenge if you're asking questions beyond expected basics.

Service is still a work in progress.

On the night we were there, our order was taken promptly and our questions answered. But unexplained delays separated each course and the arrival of the check. A week or two of experience should improve the flow.

On the plus side, no one is rushing you to leave and the $4 per-night corkage fee might encourage you to adopt the Mediterranean dining style of lingering over your meal and your companions.

Menu

There's more than a dozen Mezedes or small-plate appetizers on the menu.

Rather than choose one of the five spreads listed we began with a sampler of three ($12) -- Revithosalata, the Greek version of hummus; eggplant-based Melitzanosalata (think baba ghanoush); and Skordalia, a creamy mixture of garlic-accented potato and almond spread. Served with warm triangles of pita, one order would be a meal-starter for four or more diners.

Dolmades ($8) also were a pleasant choice -- chubby packages of rice, beef and herbs wrapped in grape leaves and served with big slices of fresh lemon.

On the next visit we look forward to exploring Kalamarakia ($9), the crispy fried calamari that comes with garlic-lemon sauce, or the Spanakopitakia ($7), tissue-thin layers of phyllo pastry filled with spinach, feta and herbs.

Horiatiki Salata ($9 or $5 as a side) brings a touch of Grecian summer to the table. The rustic salad features big chunks of cucumber, pepper, red onion, feta cheese and garlic croutons tossed with grape tomatoes and black olives in a lemony house dressing. Athenian Caesar Salata ($8 or $5 as a side) puts a Greek spin on this classic salad. The dressing is as creamy as the traditional Caesar but with a touch of lemon. Toasted pine nuts, freshly grated kefalograviera cheese and cubes of sheep's milk feta provide a Greek accent.

Diners can find familiar items such as Souvlaki skewers ($13-$15), pitas ($6.50) and such hearty dishes as Pastitsio or Mousaka ($16) at lunch and dinner.

We opted for two less familiar entrees. Sinagrida ($18) was a huge portion of crisply broiled red snapper enhanced by a coating of fresh thyme leaves and oil. Brizola ($18) presented a 14-ounce ribeye steak with a flavorful dressing of melted butter, blue cheese and chopped onion.

Entrees include a choice of potatoes or rice and salad or vegetable.

Instead of Rice Pilafi ($3 as an additional side) we went with Patates Lemonates and Patates Tiganites ($4 for either as a side) and were well-rewarded. Patates Tiganites, the Greek version of French fries, were wonderfully hot, crispy, dusted with spice and dressed with crumbled feta and oregano. Patates Lemonates, big wedges of crisply roasted potatoes, came with a lemony mayonnaise.

Mediterrano's policy is to use as many locally sourced and seasonal products and ingredients as possible. Right now management is investigating local suppliers for desserts not created on the premises. In the meantime they are producing at least one stand-out dessert, Pasta Kafe ($4), in the kitchen.

Our waitress described it as Greek tiramisu and she wasn't far off.

This pretty 3-inch high round of light layers of cake and cream was topped with a thin coffee-flavored layer and a chocolate-coated coffee bean, a sweet ending to our evening in Greece.

Additional Information:

Mediterrano

Cuisine: Mediterranean with an emphasis on Greek

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays to Saturday and 4-10 p.m. Sundays

Entree price range: $16-$22

Notes: Reservations accepted for any size group. Accepts all major credit cards. BYOB with $4 per night corkage fee. Take-out orders are available.

Location: 2193 Babcock Blvd., Ross

Details: 412-822-8888

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