Without the "Open" sign to tell you otherwise, it would be easy to assume the Mediterranean Palace on York Road across from Belvedere Square is closed. At dusk one recent night, little light emanated from the nondescript carryout, and it appeared as if one more city establishment had gone out of business.
Inside, two customers were having a quiet dinner in a small dining room indifferently decorated with a lonesome tambourine, plastic flowers, a large mirror and faux ivy trailing along a faux trellis.
But the inauspicious decor belied a fine place to find savory and fresh offerings, which helped to explain why the Mediterranean Palace, glum as it appears, has an ardent following.
Nothing that we ordered was less than good, and some of it was excellent. As an appetizer, baba ghannouj ($3.99) tasted little of roasted eggplant and strongly of lemon, but was perfectly edible, scooped with a large pita. The falafel appetizers ($2.99) were shaped like tiny bagels and sprinkled with sesame seeds; they had a nice bite and came with a gentle tahini sauce.
Fatoush ($4.99), a salad of chopped lettuce, tomato and cucumber, in a dressing of dry mint, sumac spice and lemon juice, was a bracing counterpoint to the tahini and baba ghannouj. A generous portion, topped with fried pita chips, quickly vanished.
The chicken shawermah ($6.99) was also a pleasing revelation. It consisted of strips of marinated chicken breast in a tangy sauce and was served with hummus and salad.
The beef-kebab platter ($6.99) was a bit of a surprise. The beef pieces, served on a bed of nicely flavored rice with a sweet clump of fried onions, resembled sausages more than your average kebab. Whatever you call them, the beef was delectable.
Dessert offerings are few. Mamul ($1.99), a date paste covered in a pastry, was quite good. So was the baklava ($1.99), a pastry filled with chunky bits of pistachio and, unfortunately, a small piece of shell.
Even before the planned revitalization of Belvedere Square, it's worth a trip to the crossroads of Northern Parkway and York Road, where the unassuming Mediterranean Palace serves tasty and modestly priced surprises.
Where: 5926 York Road, North Baltimore
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Prices: Mediterranean salads, side dishes and entrees from $1.99 to $9.99; American-style sandwiches and subs, $1.99 to $4.99; credit cards accepted