A retired teacher from Broomall named Ernie whom I met online recently over shared political views suggested getting together with me and my wife to continue our ongoing discussion in person. I asked him to pick out any restaurant on the Main Line, and he said his favorite was Mediterranean Grill, 870 W. Lancaster Ave. in Bryn Mawr.
I am ashamed to admit I was not familiar with it (even though it has been there for 15 years), but when my new friend said it was BYOB, that sealed the deal, as well as the fact that they serve Persian (Iranian) cuisine. You could count the number of Persian restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area on just a few fingers, and one we used to go to, Shundeez in Chestnut Hill, went out of business because, according to the owner, “So few Americans are familiar with our food or are willing to give it a try.”
At Mediterranean Grill, it is certainly well worth trying. The distinctive flavors of Persian cuisine, from the grilled kabobs, flavorings such as saffron, dried lime, cinnamon and parsley; exotic sweet and sour sauces vivid with aromatic (but not fiery) spices, roasted stuffed eggplant, several varieties of rice, etc., are very healthy, low in calories and enticing.
And the prices at Mediterranean are quite reasonable. A bountiful fresh “ottimo” (Italian for “excellent”) salad that popped with black-eyed peas, diced tomato, walnuts, scallions, shredded cabbage and more was aptly named and a bargain at $7.
A Mediterranean sampler is listed under appetizers, but it is more than entree-sized, chockablock with high-quality ingredients in appealing combinations — kalamata olives, feta cheese, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant and more, all for just $21. Not many diners would be able to finish it all.
Another splendid entree we could not finish was the Mediterranean pasta, aesthetically presented and striking a delicate balance between accessibility and modern culinary craft. The sautéed al dente ziti is married to fresh tomatoes, black olives, garlic and fresh basil and more accents. Thoroughly satisfying and just $18.
One major plus about the beautifully appointed, spacious dining room is that the tables are well spaced, and it was actually quiet, an adjective I have not often used recently to describe a restaurant.
Several days after eating there, I was able to get in touch with the owner of Mediterranean Grill, Tony Alidjani, who would not answer a question about his age but who did say that he came to the Philadelphia area more than 40 years ago from Iran. From 1987 to 1997 he owned a restaurant at 16th and Sansom Streets in center city Philadelphia, Café Parissa.
He served Continental food and home baked pastries like croissants, “similar to the Commissary,” and did quite a bit of catering. “However, someone bought the building and said we had to leave. I felt like I was drowning, but you have to move on.” (Tony won a Philadelphia magazine “Best of Philly” award at Café Parissa for his pita bread.)
But under such circumstances one has to develop sinews of grit and resilience, and Tony did so by opening Roya (named for his daughter) at 19th and Sansom Streets. It was a Persian restaurant known for its clay oven specialties. He won another “Best of Philly” award there, this time for his brownies.
After five years in center city, though, Tony took advantage of the opportunity to open Mediterranean Grill in 2002 in a building that had been vacated by a Swiss bakery.
A self-taught chef, Tony makes all his own breads daily and all other dishes from scratch from recipes he created. Tony used to serve lunch daily and now serves it only on weekends but is planning to expand it to weekdays again in the near future. Mediterranean Grill does lots of private catering for weddings, private parties, bar mitzvahs, etc. “I’m very proud that we have so many long-time customers,” said Tony, “and we really appreciate when they tell other people about us” (as Ernie did).
For more information, call 610-525-2627, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tasteofmainline.com.