Tucked into a strip mall like falafel into a pita, The Mediterranean Grill is a gem of a restaurant designed to tantalize the palate with exotic flavors and spices.
Located at 703 Long Road Crossing Dr., in a strip mall off Chesterfield Airport Road, the restaurant features dishes from a variety of Mediterranean cuisines such as hummus, kubbeh, shish kabab and souvlaki.
The restaurant is the creation of Israeli-born Elie Harir. The son of Yemenite Jews is making his first foray into restaurant ownership, though he's been in the restaurant business for 20 years and operated a catering company. He knows opening a restaurant is a big step.
“The reason I opened something was to be unique and different,” Harir said. “There is not this particular kind of food in the area. For West County, it's unique in style. You don't have a lot of small, independent restaurants around. Very few.”
The menu is as diverse as Harir's taste, drawing not from just one culture but several. There's even schnitzel—just because Harir likes it—but mostly the cuisine stays on point. “Moroccan, Tunisia, the Middle East, Israeli, North African—it's multicultural, from all around the Mediterranean,” Harir said. “That's why it's called the Mediterranean Grill.”
The Mediterranean Grill features two distinct set-ups. For lunch, everything is ordered at the counter and carried to your table. Beginning at 5 p.m., full table service is added with tablecloths, larger servings and some items that aren't available during lunch.
Harir is putting in long hours to make his restaurant a success, but it's a mission he believes in. Starting at 9 a.m., he works straight through sometimes till 11 p.m. “I do the shopping on a daily basis,” Harir said. “Once a week for staples, but every day for fresh ingredients. I use fresh, 100 percent all-natural ingredients. No MSG or preservatives.”
Galit Lev-Harir is Harir's wife and in charge of marketing for the restaurant. “We are stepping up the hill, going up,” Lev-Harir said. “We're very pleased with the way people have responded.”
Harir's philosophy of cooking revolves around his use of spices and their compatibility with each other and the entire dish. Nothing should dominate. “If you have a weak ingredient, don't bring another ingredient to cover it up,” Harir said. “Take shish kabob. Not too much spice to cover the taste of the meat. You should always taste the main ingredient. It should go along with everything else. It's about proper seasoning.”
His customer service philosophy is one which all restaurant owners should adopt. “The customer is always right. I always try to accommodate the customer. I will never argue. If he wants a different thing, a different spice, I will do what he wants. He should leave with a smile on his face. People not familiar with the food of the Mediterranean should know we have really great cuisine.”
When I saw gyros on the menu, I could not resist ordering. I've eaten the dish across Chicago and at an upscale Greek restaurant in St. Louis city, so it's not unfamiliar. The pita was fresh. The homemade tzatziki sauce was perfect. And Harir's hot sauce was a real treat. The gyro meat was cut thicker than I've seen before. Juicy, tender and flavorful, this is the best gyro anywhere.
You'll also find stand-bys like hummus, tabouleh, stuffed grape leaves and baklava for dessert. There's plenty of salads and vegetarian dishes, too. Look for the restaurant in the second strip mall heading west on Long Road, just past . It's worth seeking out.