Mediterrano fills niche in North Hills
It's not easy to convey the beautiful Greek Isles to cloudy Pittsburgh, but the Erdeljac family of Ross has accomplished just that with Mediterrano.
Walls are painted the lush color of an island sunrise and hold lovely pictures of Greek scenery. Real and not-so-real Greek artifacts sit on the newly tiled floor and in corners. Tables are set simply, with white cloths and silverware. Strains of Greek music fill the air as owner and executive chef Frank Erdeljac shows visitors around the five-month-old eatery, which seats just 24 diners.
"I want people to feel that they're in a sun-soaked Greek estiatorio," says Erdeljac, 58, whose wife, Katina, is the daughter of Greek immigrants. They have two children, Helena and Michael. "I want folks to get the feel for the warmth of the Greek isles through food, music and architecture. And because family is the most important facet of our lives, I want diners to feel like they're guests in my home."
Mediterrano transpired when the Erdeljacs realized that the North Hills was overrun with Italian restaurants, and that there was a niche for a Greek restaurant. The idea simmered in their minds for years, as they pondered the possibility of opening a place that served mostly Greek cuisine, with a smattering of other Mediterranean dishes.
Katina, an excellent cook, had many delicious family recipes she wanted to share, Frank Erdeljac says. Helena, 21, had studied in Greece her junior and senior years at Duquesne University, and her parents discovered other authentic recipes in their visits to her in Greece.
They finally decided to buy the old Uni-Mart on Babcock Boulevard in Ross, and spent two years transforming the sapce into a charming restaurant that features fresh, local ingredients married with exotic Grecian spices. Erdeljac, and strapping son Michael, 17, even built the wood-burning oven themselves. The flames from the oven readily can be seen from the street.
"We did not want Americanized Greek food," Erdeljac says. "This is simple, rustic, authentic Greek cuisine, made from scratch."
The menu, printed on parchment paper, features small-plate appetizers such as hummus, spanakopitakia, kalamata tapenade, skordalia (garlic and potato-almond spread with warm pita), taramosalata (fish-roe mousse), stuffed grape leaves and saganaki (Greek cheese flambeed with brandy and finished with fresh lemon vinaigrette).
Pitsas and flatbreads include gyros, spanakis (spinach, feta, mozzarella, provolone and bechamel white sauce), and kotopoulo manitari (portobella mushrooms, marinated chicken, roasted red peppers and mozzarella). Diners might create their pitsas from many toppings.
Skewered meats and seafood are offered alongside sandwiches, salads, and entrees. Entrees include moussaka (layered eggplant and potatoes), stifado (braised beef with tomatoes and pearl onions), sinigrida (pan-seared red snapper served over sauteed spinach and pine nuts) and several lamb dishes.
Erdeljac is proud to serve only Elysian Fields Farm lamb, and says that lamb is their main meat.
"Elysian Fields lamb is the most wonderful-tasting lamb -- it tastes like lamb you can get in Greece," says Erdeljac, who works in the orthopedics field. "There's only one steak on the menu, because there are no cows in Greece."
Erdeljac, the son of Croatian immigrants, learned how to cook in his mother's kitchen on the North Side. He comes from a big cooking family, he says, and, ironically, met his Greek wife at the Croatian Club on the North Side in the late 1970s.
"We met at the same club where my parents met," he says with a chuckle. "We married in 1983 at the Greek Orthodox Church on the North Side, in front of 600 guests, and it was just like the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Although Erdeljac cooked and tweaked every recipe before putting it on the menu, he does rely on head chef Ben Swiger to execute the recipes flawlessly. Son Michael serves as a sous chef.
"When Chuck Noll drafted players, he went for the best available athlete," Erdeljac says. "I had the same thought process when hiring chefs. I wanted young talent with fire and passion."
Business has been booming since opening in December, and Erdeljac credits the success with not only excellent food, but exceptional customer service.
"I tell my staff that I want every person to say "wow" when they leave," he says. "We treat each guest as they are the most important guest in the restaurant. We are sharing the zest of life with customers -- enjoying good things, good food and good company."
Frank Erdeljac of Mediterrano in Ross is sharing his simple and hearty fish casserole, Psari Plaki, because he feels this dish best represents what Greek food is about.
"All the ingredients are what you find on the islands -- potatoes, onions, beans, tomatoes, olive oil," he says. "Tilapia is a fish that can easily be bought in Pittsburgh, but if you prefer another fish, you could substitute cod, halibut or sole. We just made this dish for 250 people last weekend."
Psari Plaki is ideal for dinner parties of 6 or more, and preparation time is minimal. Erdeljac suggests serving this satisfying meal as they do, with a rice/orzo mixture or rice pilaf, and warm pita bread.
- 6 tilapia fillets, about 8 ounces each
- 4 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, large diced
- 4 cups yellow onions, large diced
- 3⁄4 cup golden raisins
- 3 fresh lemons
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can French-cut green beans, drained
- 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat parsley
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season fillets with salt and pepper on both sides and set aside. Cut one lemon into six round slices.
In a large bowl, combine potatoes and onions and mix well. Add drained green beans, raisins and parsley, and mix thoroughly.
In a separate large bowl, combine tomato paste with diced tomatoes, and add the olive oil, wine, kosher salt, pepper and garlic.
Add the tomato mixture to the potato-onion-bean mixture and thoroughly incorporate.
Scoop half of the combined mixture into a 12-inch-by18-inch pan. Lay tilapia fillets on top of that, and place one lemon slice onto each fillet. Cover fillets with the remaining mixture.
Cover and tightly seal with aluminum foil and place on middle rack in oven.
After 30 minutes, remove foil from pan and continue to bake another 30 minutes. Remove from oven and check for doneness.
Serve on a plate over a bed of rice/orzo mixture, and garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.
Makes 5 servings.Additional Information:
Cuisine: Authentic Greek, with some Mediterranean dishes
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 4-10 p.m. Sundays
Entree price range: $15-$39
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Reservations recommended. BYOB with a $4 corkage fee per bottle.
Address: 2193 Babcock Blvd., Ross