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Thursday, October 18,2012

Mediterranean simplicity

By Clay Fong

Sometimes all you want to eat is something cheap, quick and simple. Boulder’s Mediterranean Market fits this description to a T with the added bonus of dishing out unpretentious ethnic cuisine. Trappings here are basic and functional, and true to this establishment’s name, it’s as much grocery store as it is eatery. Service is order at the counter, and diners seat themselves at tables scattered about the front of the store. While you wait for your meal, you can browse the grocery offerings, which include halal chicken and lamb, pomegranate molasses, yogurt-based sodas and lokum candy.

The menu is straightforward, focusing on pita-based sandwiches, notably gyros, as well as tried-and-true spreads of hummus and baba ganoush. Dolmas, salads and fries are also on tap, and there’s an available assortment of sweets covered in plastic wrap. Another point in the Mediterranean Market’s favor is the extremely reasonable prices, making it easy to enjoy a meal for well under a ten spot.

Friend Keith’s $7 Number Two combo served as exhibit A with respect to this restaurant’s value. It consisted of a sandwich, in this case a classic gyro, a side and a fountain drink. The gyros came atop slightly puffy flatbread garnished with plenty of lettuce. Unlike other gyros, the meat was cut thick, which made for a more satisfying steak-like experience than thinner versions that bear an unfortunate resemblance to jerky. While all gyros meat tends toward salty, and this was no exception, the sandwich also had a pleasant, earthy lamb savor. For a side, Keith went with hefty falafel balls that featured balanced but more assertive spicing than a chain restaurant equivalent. These were also endearingly crunchy on the outside, with an almost nutty flavor on the inside.

I pursued the Number Four combo, also priced at $7, consisting of a sandwich and three sides — in this case salad, hummus and dolma. Baba ganoush anchored the flatbread sandwich, bringing with it a wonderfully silky mouthfeel. This roasted eggplant puree filling, however, would have benefited from a lighter hand with the lemon juice, as the citrus notes distracted.

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The sides, though, were beyond reproach. The hummus had a velvety texture similar to the eggplant, and the earthy tones of the chickpeas shined through. The Greek-style green salad satisfied, with adornments like whole, not-too-briny olives and creamy feta. Sometimes, dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, have a sour taste and an almost leathery wrap. Here, they did not, and instead had a delicate leafy cover and tender, cool rice on the inside.

We ended on a high note, a pre-wrapped serving of $2.99 baklava. It was far better than its packaged appearance would indicate — flaky and honeyed without being overwhelming. Often these pastries come with an overabundance of honey, and in these instances you half expect you’ll get rolled by a swarm of angry bees seeking revenge when you’re through. This was definitely not the case here. Even better, the measured sweetness made space for a subtle and surprising scent of rosewater flavoring.

There’s no unnecessary flourishes at the Mediterranean Market. It’s an understated place, with prices that beat fast food joints. More important, it presents a winning alternative to higher-priced restaurants living on the culinary cutting edge. Those experiences can be fine, but sometimes less complicated is best.

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