Maitland mezze & salad stand is more than meets the eye.
Much of my life has been spent helping businesses craft effective brand identities. It’s not the rock-star career path I envisioned, but it’s kept me out of the coal mines. One of the basics? Distinctive and memorable win the day.
The name Mediterranean Street Food is neither distinctive nor memorable. The scratch-made food that comes out of its kitchen, however, is quite a different matter.
I must have driven by the picnic-tabled kiosk a hundred times without once thinking of stopping. Why? That damn name. Mediterranean is a tiresome catch-all. Street food has lost all meaning. Together they read like a tribute to generica not unlike European Café Food or one of the countless milquetoast variations of Asian Kitchen.
What changed my mind? Instagram. I kept seeing photos of highly distinctive food – memorable food – and eventually said fuck it. Let’s head to Maitland.
You could be excused for being unfamiliar with Maitland – It’s more of a name than a town and sits in Winter Park’s long reputational shadow. There’s quite a bit to like there though; The feather in Orlando’s cap that is the Enzian Theater (and its idyllic Eden Bar), recently revitalized Luke’s Kitchen (new chef), Italian stalwart Antonio’s and the historic Maitland Art Center all call this suburban stretch of sprawl home.
Lack of development guardrails aside (it seems to be growing in an extremely unhealthy way), Maitland’s amenities have become increasingly interesting over the years and Mediterranean Street Food (MSF) can easily be counted among them. I’d like to say MSF is a new discovery. It’s not. It’s been open for quite some time. We’ve just not been open to eating there.
Fellow boozehounds might know MSF’s dining room as the parking lot of the Copper Rocket. You know – where you lost your keys. And your pride. We arrived at said parking lot on a sunny day – an enjoyably sunny day – perfect for taking advantage of the handful of outdoor tables that saddle up to the colorful, mural adorned restaurant-in-a-box.
We kicked things off by placing our order at one kiosk window and retrieving our finished plates from another. Service – if you can call it that – was both friendly and relaxed. Exceptionally human.
Our immediate sights were set on falafel. I love falafel. Adore falafel. Yes, I would marry falafel if the coupling weren’t illegal in 49 states. Stay strong, Michigan. My love for the grainy balls of ground chickpea and fava truly blossomed during my London days, where I routinely gobbled down takeaway bowls packed with piping hot nuggets of yum and all manner of pickled veggies, spicy chili, tabbouleh and hummus.
Unfortunately, the falafel at MSF made for a slow start. You can tell they’re born of love but the texture is best compared to a gently roasted plantain. To each their own, but we found them a bit of a letdown, far preferring versions with a pronounced outer crisp giving way to slightly moist herbal middles with a touch of graininess – a style I lovingly refer to as halal hushpuppies. We plan to give the falafel another go as the flavor was largely there, but no one found them far beyond mildly appealing.
I also love baba ghanouj. Not enough to marry it. That’d be weird. Plus, MSF’s version wouldn’t be worth courting. I disliked it. It’s a take that’s entirely new to me – more of a chunky, semi-tart eggplant and tomato relish – and although it was perfectly edible, it left me immediately longing for the tomato-less wonder of silkily smoothed chargrilled eggplant and tahini. Yes, there were dissenting voices. Miss Tipsy – who is also a baba fan – enjoyed the variation quite a bit. What does she know.
Onward. Apart from, say, seared halloumi, we’re firmly on the fence when it comes to fried cheese. Sure, there’s heavenly outliers like the crispy gouda goodliness at Hunger Street Tacos, but more often than not it manifests as glorified mozzarella sticks and mozzarella sticks might as well be goblin penises. Terribly bland goblin penises. At MSF, fried cheese takes the form of Sigara Boregi – phyllo wrapped Turkish egg rolls packed with cheese and spices. In all fairness, they were tasty enough – some random mouth in our group fawned over them – but on the whole we found the rolls unexciting. One a treat. Three a threat.
Enough. Let’s move on from frown town and talk winners: köfte, lamb chops, and gyro. Pita bread, hummus and rice. Oh my. We will be back soon and for all of it.
Hummus at MSF is very good as is the pita bread that accompanies it and forms the undercarriage of many menu items (salads and bowls). We found the chickpea-tahini spread well balanced and texturally spot on.
I’ll allow myself one over the top proclamation: The gyro meat atop the gyro salad was the most tender I have ever had in my life. Almost eerily so. As in ‘how can we achieve this level of tender limited only by the tenderizing technology available to modern man?’ We have our suspicions and they involve marijuana, Elon Musk and Kepler-62f. In any case, the gyro salad. Get it.
Similarly, four excellent – excellent – marinated lamb chops graced a similar salad setup (tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, parsley, red wine vinegar and olive oil). The chops were gorgeously tender and tasty. Perfectly cooked and a no-brainer recommendation.
Köfte – in this case, ground beef meatballs mixed with herbs and spices – were zesty, earthy little reminders of how meaty meat can be and were served over rice that’s distinct enough to make note of. We love it when rice stands up and demands attention and at MSF it does so in the fluffiest and nuttiest of ways.
Accoutrements – from tahini sauce to tzatziki to hot relish – are all top notch and if you’re thirsty (and who isn’t thirsty for something), there’s the usual bottled and canned suspects plus a very good, house-made sweetened hibiscus tea.
And, that folks, is that. We like this place. Even the stuff we didn’t like we kind of liked – meaning that the downs were more a reflection of preference than quality. In other words, nothing was spit into a napkin.
So, all this flavorful goodness behind a flavorless moniker leaves us pondering question: What’s in a name? At Maitland’s bite-sized Mediterranean Street Food it seems much more than we ever imagined.