Howard dining: Rudy's Mediterranean Grill and Diner

Columbia Gateway seems a well-conceived venue for a variety of area businesses. Whatever the purpose, though, the troops need to be fed. So that busy area features a number of eateries that draw local workers and area diners as well.

One such facility is an “all-American” strip center boasting three restaurants that cater to those with other than all-American palates. There’s Indian. There’s Japanese. And in between the two is Rudy’s Mediterranean Grill (and Diner), which provides a compendium of culinary approaches at breakfast and lunch, then focuses on Turkish at dinner.

The 150-seat restaurant features three dining areas and a bar, from which wine and Turkish beer are dispensed. On the walls, photos and paintings depict a variety of Turkish themes, belly dancers included.

The staff seemed as eclectic as the menu when we visited. Indeed, our hostess was a young, friendly blond American type, while our knowledgeable server was from Guatemala. For the Rudy’s newcomer, the menu -- even though some of the items are well described -- does need someone who knows the ins and outs of specific dishes and ingredients.

A persistent diner will soon get the hang of it, although it will be no easy feat because of the myriad choices. Those who are familiar with Greek food should have no problem with the Turkish interpretation of such dishes as moussaka, grilled lamb and stuffed baby eggplant. Although restaurant owner Rudy Keskin says the dinner entree menu is a combination of Greek and Turkish food, it’s really “95 percent Turkish.”

Of course, there are plenty of choices for the truly timid, like burgers and fries, crab-stuffed mushrooms and buffalo wings. We would, however, strongly advise even the tyro diner to choose something Turkish. In general, the food is well thought out, interesting, pleasantly presented, mild-mannered, good tasting and reasonably priced.

Sticking to the theme

In addition to a server who knew his way around the bill of fare, warm crusty bread and a dish of olive oil housing a little pool of mellow balsamic vinegar, plus some wine, set the mood for our decision-making process.

Mucver ($6.95) included three large deep-fried zucchini and feta cheese fritters. The dill-flavored fritters were crisp, moist and arranged over coarsely shredded lettuce and tomato wedges and served with a garlic yogurt dunk.

Rudy’s serves a welcome version of falafel ($7.50), composed of a half-dozen chickpea balls, which had been flattened, fried deep brown and arranged over a thick, creamy pool of hummus, accompanied by lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. These were good falafel morsels on their own, but especially nice with more of that lovely warm house bread.

Happily, Rudy’s dinner items are combinations, so most choices come with salad and rice and often soup, which can also be part of your appetizer course. The brown lentil soup was mild and comforting, subtly flavored -- clearly homemade. Same with the du-jour tomato basil. Soup’s a pain -- you gotta respect the good ones.

Kebab-ing along

As mentioned, once you get the hang of reading the menu, you may realize you’ve tried any number of the goodies before (which adds to the appeal of trying Chef Ismet Gezgic’s versions for comparison).

Rudy’s Shish Kebab Combo ($16.95) included one large skewer bearing big chunks of chicken, beef and lamb. The meats had been tenderly marinated and arrived fragrant, flavorful and hot at the table.

Moussaka ($14.95) was a smallish portion, but featured that classic comforting blend of tender ground beef, creamy baked eggplant, mild cheese and mashed potatoes.  

Arguably the simplest entree was lamb chops ($19.95/4). These Australian chops were thin, but perfectly grilled to medium rare, very tender, moist, and boasting the pleasant lamb flavor that’s often homogenized out of some versions of this meat. Salad and rice, too.

Our fourth entree was chosen from a menu section titled “Turkish Pides and Lahmacun.” There are pictures of the products on the menu, but we still needed our server to translate. Turns out Pides and Lahmacuns are basically Turkish versions of flat-bread pizza.

Thus, Sucuklu Pide ($12.95), was a large canoe-shaped concoction featuring crisp-tender yeast dough that was turned up around the edges so it could hold generous portions of spicy Turkish sausage and mild “pepperon” (read: pepperoni) arranged over a generous bed of kasar (kasseri in Greek) cheese and crisp-tender green peppers, then baked to warm and melty goodness.

Rudy’s dessert items number a half-dozen and include baklava, rice pudding and other Mediterranean favorites. And, of course, there’s Turkish coffee.

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