Soon after my husband and I moved to Baltimore, we discovered that Greek food was one of the lesser-known culinary benefits of living here.
We loved the old Mount Vernon on Charles Street and, with its passing nearly a decade ago, found a new home when our taste buds craved Greek, which is fairly often. Over the years, we have tried other Greek restaurants and, without exception, concluded that our favorite was, indeed, the best.
What a surprise, then, to discover that we may have found a new favorite: the Mediterranean, recently opened on Eastern Avenue at Ponca Street.
Whatever your favorite Greek restaurant is, you owe yourself a meal at this one. If you're like us, you'll find a place with a superb sense of seasoning, big portions of terrific food, wonderful service and a beautiful atmosphere.
And gosh, they're even nice to children.
While there is no children's menu, we found plenty that our two daughters liked and even were able to share.
The Mediterranean is new and beautifully decorated. The main dining room has about 30 tables. The bright blue of the tableclothes is repeated in the print curtains and floral wall border; the light pine chairs and quality ceiling fans complement the blues and lend a lightness to the many-windowed room.
The menu is large, with many Greek favorites and some newcomers, all reasonably priced.
We began with a Cheese Pie and a Spinach Pie ($2.25 each). Both were large creations with wonderfully flaky phyllo crusts and creamy fillings. I preferred the cheese, rich with feta; my husband liked the layered spinach better. The children sided with me.
We moved on to two small village-style salads ($2.25 each), which were not small. Large chunks of fresh feta graced these well-dressed salads, which included cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and Greek olives.
The entrees were a tough choice. I kept veering toward the Mediterranean Combination ($7.50), a sampling of moussaka, pastitsio, dolmathes, roast leg of lamb, rice, potatoes and vegetables, but in the interest of weight-control, chose the Broiled Filet of Flounder ($9.95), which I often order in Greek restaurants.
My husband chose the crab cakes ($10.50) and our daughters split a serving of Greek-style chicken ($7.50). We shared a side dish of green beans ($1.95), cooked with tomatoes, olive oil and spices.
My large, flaky flounder had the oregano and olive oil taste that so complements this fish. It could have used a bit more lemon juice as a foil to the oil, but was good, nonetheless.
The crab cakes, my husband said, were some of the best he's ever had. Very light, very creamy, very flavorful, very big. And very well broiled.
The chicken, also a big hit, was more than enough for two small eaters. My husband and I also thought it quite good, though a little greasy.
Green beans in tomato sauce are often a bellwether of a Greek restaurant's skills. Either they're cooked slowly, lovingly, absorbing lots of wonderful flavors along the way, or they're rushed, offering only a hint of the flavor they should have. The Mediterranean's, everything we hoped for, would have made a great vegetarian entree.
Included with the entrees were Greek baked potatoes, rice and a vegetable medley. All were nicely seasoned and as tasty as the rest of our meals.
After asking to have our considerable leftovers wrapped, we inquired about dessert. The waiter said he would be right back.
Right back he was, not to recite the night's selection but to place before us -- compliments of the house -- a platter with full-size pieces of baklava, galaktoboureko, kataifi and creme caramel. All were unbelievably good.
Our 2-year-old, however, wanted rice pudding ($1.50). While the serving was huge, the taste was a notch or two below the other desserts.
Much as we might have liked to linger over desserts, the kids were growing antsy -- and loud. We thought it best to beat a quick retreat before the rapidly filling room bore the brunt of a tired 2-year-old.
With drinks, a half bottle of wine, two Shirley Temples and coffee, our bill was $57.
My husband and I left knowing we would return, the next time without our children. If experience is a guide, the food will probably taste better because we'll be able to enjoy it with fewer distractions. Even with the constraints of family dining, however, it was clear that the Mediterranean is already equal to the best Greek restaurants in a city where the competition is tough.
*** 1/2 Mediterranean Restaurant
4901 Eastern Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily (bar open until 2 a.m.). High chairs and booster seats available.
Reservations: Advisable for more than four. Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: No separate areas, but smokers and non-smokers can be segregated.