Diners with a hankering for vibrant Mediterranean flavors have discovered two lunch spots, one near Government Center, the other in the Back Bay. Both are winning fans with their quick-serve tailor-made fare.
When Tim Oliveri and executive chef Thomas John launched Piperi Mediterranean Grill a little more than two years ago, they were confident the place would draw crowds with its customizable wraps, salads, and mezze plates. What surprises them is how quickly people took to their food.
The business partners knew they had a hit soon after they opened the lunch spot near Government Center. “Two or three weeks in, customers began to ask, ‘Can you cater our office event?’ ” says Oliveri. The duo ramped up that part of the operation and streamlined counter service to better accommodate walk-ins. The colorful veg-oriented fare is created by John, executive chef of the former fine dining restaurant Mantra. “Everything is made from scratch,” he says. “People love it.”
Hop in line and tell the first server behind the counter whether you would like a sandwich, salad, or plate, then select a featured ingredient (falafel $6.50, chicken $7, steak $8, or roasted vegetables $7.50). Scoot further down the assembly line and indicate which toppings and sauces you prefer. You can see all of them behind the glass (up to four are included in the price).
We select a mezze plate with crisp-fried falafel, shredded Moroccan-style carrots, sweet and fragrant with cardamom and ginger, and a refreshing tomato relish with slivers of radish. A delicious version of tabbouleh substitutes white beans for traditional bulgur wheat. Hummus could be creamier and needs more zip in the form of lemon juice, but the freshness of the spread is most welcome.
Sandwiches feature gozi flatbread, the chef’s riff on a Turkish specialty called gozleme. Warmed on a flat-top grill, it resembles a chewy tortilla, and provides an ample wrap for subtly spiced chicken, yogurt cucumber sauce, and salad greens.
Cafe Med in the Park Square Building is a four-month-old place owned by Manos Linoxilakis and Christophe Muller (the two also own O Sushi Restaurant & Bar in Harvard Square). Here, Greek-inflected Mediterranean fare is cooked by head chef Stuart Lander (he worked in the same space for different owners when the spot was called Laffa, a Middle Eastern restaurant).
Like Piperi, you approach the counter and tell staff whether you would like a wrap (it’s called a roll-up), a salad, or a platter. Be prepared for a line at lunch hour; Cafe Med has developed quite a following.
Falafel ($6.50), tinged light green from parsley, comes with salad, rice pilaf, or thick-cut fries (tasty enough, but not from fresh-cut spuds). The mildly spiced chickpea balls can be tucked into a pita ($5.99), or you can choose chicken ($6.99) or beef ($7.99) for your sandwich. “With the falafel, we use the thicker Syrian pita,” says Linoxilakis about the roll-up. Thinner Greek rounds are also available.
The Greek salad ($6.99) features a generous portion of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato, Kalamata olives, and creamy crumbled feta. On the day we visit, there is no more lentil soup or baba ghanouj, so a side of grape leaves ($3.99), filled with tender lemony rice, fits the bill nicely, as does a hot cup of joe from Dedham-based Fazenda Coffee Roasters.
Walk into either spot during weekday lunch rush and you’ll see plenty of loyal customers, all making quick work of the brightly flavored fare, served just the way they like it.
PIPERI MEDITERRANEAN GRILL
1 Beacon St., near Government Center, Boston,
All major credit cards.
Prices Wraps, salads, mezze plates $6.50-$8.
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
What to order Mezze plate with falafel, Moroccan carrots, white bean tabbouleh, tomato relish,gozi wrap with chicken.
31 St. James Ave., Back Bay, Boston,
All major credit cards.
Prices Salads and soups $2.99-$6.99.
Wraps and plates $5.99-$9.99.
Hours Mon-Sat 9:30 a.m.- 6 p.m.
What to order Falafel lunch plate, Greek salad,grape leaves.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.