Zaytune Mediterranean Grill

A savory perfume of Mediterranean spices fills the modest space of Zaytune Mediterranean Grill on the corner of Morgan and 31st. The rich terracotta and olive walls, adorned with a few pieces of Mediterranean-inspired artwork, convey the cuisine’s cultural identity while maintaining the atmosphere of an American fast-casual restaurant.

Zaytune’s commitment to its regional cuisine and quality ingredients is expressed wonderfully in its food. The open kitchen behind the counter provides a view of the chefs hard at work preparing homemade flatbread, baba gannoush, grilled kabobs, and other classic Middle Eastern dishes. The variety of menu options, featured on a board behind the counter, is just vast enough to offer a wide range of choices without overwhelming customers.  All dishes cost fewer than $10, reasonably priced given the quality of ingredients.

The side options include both classic Mediterranean favorites, including falafel and lentil soup, and more Americanized choices, such as homemade pickles and herb fries. The lentil soup is simple and unimpressive, but well-seasoned nonetheless. The favorite at my table is the baba gannoush, which is silken, wonderfully perfumed with garlic, and drizzled with delicious olive oil. The fruity quality of the olive oil elevates the spread to something truly delicious, as with the tabouli, where the piquant tang of lemon and herbaceous burst of parsley harmonize with the oil’s fruitiness. The cucumber and yogurt salad, however, is underwhelming.  I prefer a yogurt sauce that clings to each piece of cucumber, so Zaytune’s is disappointing in that regard, and the amount of dill overpowers the wonderful, characteristic zing of the Greek yogurt. Our appetizers end with a high note on the herb fries, which are fried perfectly and served with a velvety aioli that is full of aromatic garlic.

Each of the sandwiches is served on flatbread with tahini, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and onion alongside a salsa-like dipping sauce. I have nothing but praise for the flatbread, which the chefs make each day and grill to-order until piping hot and lightly charred. The soft, toothsome texture of this wrap is a scrumptious vehicle for the cold, crisp veggies, tangy tahini sauce, and one of the various protein options. Zaytune’s falafels are some of the best I’ve eaten, in terms of both texture and flavor. They are crisp, luscious orbs of ground chickpeas, spiced with the smoky essence of cumin, nutty sesame seeds, and a fresh, herbal note of parsley. The dynamic between the nuttiness of the sesame in the falafel and the sesame’s piquancy in the tahini makes this sandwich incredibly flavorful. The marinade of yogurt, lemon, and that great olive oil on the grilled chicken breast not only permeates the flesh with a delicious tang, but also keeps it moist throughout the cooking process. The braised leg of lamb is rich and tender as well, with earthy undertones of cumin and coriander, but the beef from the kofta kabob is somewhat tough, while well-seasoned. And the shrimp, which Zaytune grills with a peppery crust, is so succulent and savory that I wish there were more in the sandwich.

Overall, Zaytune Mediterranean Grill delivers on its promise of “succulent, delicious, and fresh food,” bringing traditional cuisine to an American audience. The bold flavors of the Middle East are expressed wonderfully by the chefs at Zaytune and translated into American food culture, with a resulting fusion that is both familiar and a little exotic–not to mention, very tasty.

3129 S. Morgan St. Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm; Sunday, noon-9pm. (773)254-6300. zaytunegrill.com