Meatless in Steer City

A restaurant that advertised a “Baltic oven” would not draw much business outside Gdansk. But because of the popularity of the “Mediterranean diet,” a regimen stressing fresh produce and minimal meat, “Mediterranean Grill” conjures up the prospect of enhanced health and prolonged life. Of course, it is foolish to generalize about cuisines in a vast region stretching from Spain and Morocco to Turkey and Syria. But the prominence of hummus, baba ghannouj, and kabobs suggests that the menu at Pasha Mediterranean Grill is primarily eastern Mediterranean, where Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt each lay claim to be the homeland of falafel. The presence of Greek salad among the appetizers is not conclusive, since you can also order a Greek salad at Rome Pizza on De Zavala (the Romans stole their culture from the Greeks).

However, according to my server during a recent visit, Pasha — a word derived from Turkish — is owned by an Iranian. Many of the terms on the menu are Farsi. Since it is a long trek, through Iraq and Syria, to get to the famous sea, Iran is as much a “Mediterranean” state as Texas is an “Atlantic” one. It would be more accurate to call Pasha’s cuisine Middle Eastern fusion but more sensible just to get past the labels and savor the food.

Though pasha was an exalted title in the Ottoman Empire, Pasha is not posh. A bustling establishment on Wurzbach a couple of blocks west of IH-10, it seems to do as much business in takeout as dining on the premises. Since almost all of its entries are under $10, it does not take a pasha’s wealth to command a sumptuous feast. I recently visited Pasha for a meal without meat, but in the spirit of the restaurant’s own culinary eclecticism, I brought along a few carnivorous companions.

As additional evidence that Pasha leans eastward beyond the Mediterranean, the fresh, warm pita delivered immediately and unbidden to our table resembled fluffy Indian naan more than the flat, bland bread prevalent throughout the Levant. As appetizer, a plate of smooth hummus contained just the right blend of tahini. Only one of the house’s 10 entrées lacks meat, but for it, the “Vegetarian Plate,” a diner chooses five components from a list of 10. I selected Shirazi salad, baba ghannouj, dolma, falafel, and “Pasha” potatoes, for a filling and fulfilling meal. The Shirazi salad, a simple assortment of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions without lettuce, is named for a city in southwest Iran, further confirmation of Pasha’s Persian roots. The falafel comes as a couple of flat fried chickpea patties, not the crisp edible Ping-Pong balls popular in the Levant. Pasha’s potatoes are sautéed with cilantro, garlic, and lemon juice. The dolma is an unremarkable pair of grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. But the baba ghannouj, a creamy blend of eggplant, garlic, tahini, and lemon, is as smooth as the Galilee on a calm summer day.

Two companions ordered chicken dishes — a kabob made with chicken breast and something called joojeh kabob that is made with Cornish hen. Both were marinated in saffron, lemon juice, and olive oil and cooked over an open flame. My third companion enjoyed a serving of koobideh kabob, which consists of two skewers of ground beef cooked with Persian spices over an open flame. I take their word that what they ate was tender, moist, and flavorful.

Pasha’s dining room is one large, airy space, but we chose a table on their outdoor patio. As the stars peeked out, we could easily imagine ourselves seated at a seaside café in Beirut, Tel Aviv, or Alexandria, except that noisy Wurzbach Road is a poor substitute for the majestic Mediterranean. Afterward, in the same strip mall, I stopped to buy supplies at the Ali Baba International Food Market, a grocery that further confounds ethnic boundaries and delights the palate. •

Pasha Mediterranean Grill
9339 Wurzbach Road
(210) 561-5858

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