A quick hit list of Mediterranean restaurants in Northern Michigan, plus flavor insights from Nada Saco, owner of Nada’s Gourmet Deli.
NADA’S GOURMET DELI | 542 W. Front St., Traverse City
The pungent siren call of garlic touma and a deep queue of shawarma-hungry patrons snaking out the door can only mean one thing. The North’s unrequited craving for Middle Eastern street food is over. Frying falafel, dishing out bright lemony tabbouleh and rolling marinated chicken and pickled vegetables into paper-thin pita, the namesake behind Nada’s is a one-woman study in culinary multi-tasking. Behind her workstation, spotless gleaming cases are filled with cucumber jajeek, quinoa, mango and parsley salad, creamy hummus, curry-spiked cold lentil salad and platters of still warm baklava. A vertical rotisserie stands braced for this summer’s gyro program.
BALLARÓ WINE LOUNGE | 700 Cottageview Dr., Traverse City
Chow down Sicilian style with small plates of stuffed olives, salt-cured tuna and octopus with tomatoes and olives.
OPA! GRILL & TAPROOM | 2658 Crossing Circle, Traverse City
Start with Saganaki, melted Greek cheese flamed tableside, and end with the perennially popular gyro.
MIM’S MEDITERRANEAN GRILL | 1823 US 31 North, Petoskey
Classic gyros and fusionistic riffs with grilled veggies or zesty falafel. Do not ignore the fiery feta fries.
Foodie File: Nada Saco, Owner of Nada’s Gourmet Deli
Synthesizing the flavors from her childhood in Iraq, the Greek Islands and Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community, Nada Saco has been rooted in the North for the past two decades and in 2015 started slinging Middle Eastern delights from her store on West Front Street. Dropping in for our weekly shawarma fix, we talk essential Mediterranean flavors, next-level hummus strategy and get a quick recipe for cucumber salad.
We come here for shawarma, but what are you cooking at home?
My favorite thing is dolma. I learned to make them from my mother and grandmother.
As in stuffed grape leaves?
Yes, but in Iraq, we do it a little differently. Meat and onions are finely chopped, mixed with spices and rice then stuffed into all kind of vegetables: peppers, zucchini, eggplant. It’s layered in a deep pan and the stuffed grape leaves go on top.
The last five customers have left with bags of borek. What are those?
Everyone’s addicted to the borek. At home, these are round meat pies made with thin phyllo and fried. My version uses egg roll wrappers, one is stuffed with ground beef and the other with chicken biryani.
This hummus is super silky. What’s the secret?
Good hummus needs to start with good ingredients. Dried chickpeas that have been rehydrated have the best flavor. Find the best, smoothest tahini, use fresh garlic, high quality olive oil and, most importantly, the best food processor you can find. Hummus needs to be processed for a long time, sometimes again the next day, in order to get that smooth texture.
JAJEEK (CUCUMBER YOGURT SALAD)
- 1 English cucumber, diced
- 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
In a medium mixing bowl fold ingredients together, cover and chill for at least one hour. Serve with roasted leg of lamb, grilled chicken or fresh pita.