Despite its lack of pretension, three-year-old Mediterranea came out of the gate with fawning reviews across the board from all the top tuned-in Atlanta critics. Partners Gerard Nudo and Gary McElroy have carved (literally) a “clean eating” and somewhat edgy dining niche a few blocks from the Atlanta Zoo in a 1920 trolley stop that sat empty for 25 years.
Nudo said, “Our menu is entirely gluten-free. I was born in the mountains of Calabria just miles from the sea and was raised in New York’s Astoria neighborhood, where my family prepared traditional Mediterranean meals, lots of olive oil (in place of butter), vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, spices, poultry and seafood. This has been our credo.”
The Mediterranea website espouses “A tavola non s’ invecchia” – “At the table, one does not grow old. “Besides that, they prove that clean eating can also be tasty. Those well-traveled know that Mediterranean influences are not from one particular country, but incorporate brushes from Italy, Israel, France and Greece.
For Sunday brunch, they’ve had green shakshuka with garlicky yogurt sauce, a traditional Israeli dish, which is normally served “red” as a tomato base. Head chef Ian Anderson sometimes exercises his Southern roots.
Nudo and McElroy make quite the team. Both fled management jobs in the New York book business and have degrees from the Institute of Culinary Education. Nudo’s is in pastry and baking arts; McElroy’s in restaurant management. They very much care about living in nature. They have five hens and have planted more than 150 species of Southeast native trees and shrubs in their Ormewood Park home. Precious wood and preservation are themes throughout the restaurant space. A 95-year-old fallen pecan tree was air dried for 18 months with fungi pigmentation and now supports the entrance bakery case. Local wood was used for the quarter stern white oak table tops indoors and out. Grant Park master woodworker Alan Lieberman was employed for banquettes and bases.
Leading an eclectic life, Nudo also has a degree in music and worked as a sheep farmer in Ireland.
McElroy, who hails from Iowa and Texas, is jokingly refered to as the “slacking” partner, but he is attentive and available on the dining floor.
Our bill of fare:
We started with Greek salad ($9) made extra special with peppadews and boquerones (anchovies imported from Spain for optional $3 upcharge), enough to share and worth every cent. The dressing with both red and white wine vinegar was divine with just enough bite, which I tried unsuccessfully to re-create at home.
Piquante Risotto- Melt-in-the-mouth delish with fresh oranges, again peppadews (heaven), manchego, piquante sauce, ($22) available vegan or with duck confit. Note manchego is a “sheep cheese” from the La Mancha region in Spain known for its caramel, nutty flavor.
Salmon al Cartoccio – salmon, zucchini, capers, dates, dill, lemon, artichoke, quinoa, baked in parchment and served with colorful radicchio salad.
We had the vegan Lemon Blueberry Cashew “cheese” cake with fresh berries in rum sauce, which was worth licking the plate.
Their specialties are gluten-free desserts, which are not all on hand at the same time. Customers can call to preorder: Dream of Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake, Lemon Bundt, Nutella Chocolate Chip Babka, Charlotte Royale, pies, cupcakes and tarts, which can rotate. The front bakery display has several individual items for sale.
For next time:
House-made Dolmas – grape leaves, rice, walnuts, with garlic yogurt sauce, $8.
Involtini – thinly sliced vegetables rolled around haloumi cheese, rice blend, pine nuts, tomato and pepper vinaigrette.
Eggplant Stack – layers of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, manchego with rapini. $18.
The menu also includes steak frites, pan-roasted chicken, and market vegetable plate. Also shared plates of a quartet of spreads and vegetarian antipasti.
The website closes with, “Eat food, but not too much. Mostly plants,” by author Michael Pollan. At Mediterranea, you will want to eat “much,” but you won’t feel badly about it afterwards.
Meditteranea is located at 332 Ormond Street. Nudo noted that its hours have recently shifted, closing for lunch and staying open later, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as the neighborhood developed.
Brunch is 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m., except for 6 p.m. Sunday.