Monday, April 9, 2012

While New Orleans May Lack…

authentic Chinese restaurants, there seems to be no similar lack of Mediterranean places to dine. During our December visit, we enjoyed lunch at Babylon Café, which features Lebanese Mediterranean food. We plan to visit another which specializes in Tunisian Mediterranean food. And today, we lunch at Courtyard Grill, whose cuisine centers on the food of Turkey.

Courtyard Grill is located just north of the intersection of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue in a renovated house that was the site of a praline and sno-ball shop.

Magazine is an interesting street. When we first started visiting New Orleans back in the mid-1980’s, Magazine was almost a “no man’s land” and tourists were advised to avoid it. By the mid-1990’s, it had become a vibrant commercial area housing galleries, antique shops, and more restaurants than you can count. My general impression is that Magazine east of Napoleon is mostly commercial with a few residences thrown in, but west of Napoleon becomes more residential with spots of commercial activity.

We arrived on one of those rainy days that we have become all too familiar with on this trip, and the restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived. The space is tastefully painted in warm
“desert” tones with the tables dressed with black cloth table covers. There is a small bar along one wall and at the end of the bar stands a beautiful silver samovar which is used for making tea.

The menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner, contains many Mediterranean restaurant staples like hummus, falafel, dolmas, kabobs, and gyros. But one item caught my eye—doners. On all of our trips to Nova Scotia, we would come across small restaurants—mostly take-out—selling something called “donairs” which were described as a form of gyro. “A variation on the döner kebab known as a Donair was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the early 1970s….The meat in this version is sliced from a loaf made from a combination of ground beef, flour or bread crumbs, and various spices, while the sauce is made from evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar, and sometimes garlic. The meat and sauce are served rolled in pita bread with condiments such as tomato and onion ( We never tried them. They never sounded good.

“Döner Kebab (as döner kebab in Turkish and often simply kebab, döner, doner, donner or donair), which literally means ‘turning roast,’ is the name given to a Turkish dish made with lamb (or mutton), beef or chicken. Some have compared doner kebabs to shawarma and gyros, possibly because similar meat may be used, but they are in fact very different in terms of the filling and/or form. Doner kebabs are generally wrapped in tortilla-like flat bread, and shawarma is generally in pita or sandwich form. Gyros are always wrapped in pita. The difference in fillings is also very great. The gyro almost always contains the same few ingredients. Doner kebabs and shawarma, though, can include various salad ingredients such as carrots or red cabbage and fresh mint as well as a number of creamy sauces or even hot sauce” ( To me, the greatest difference is that gyros are made from a ground meat mixture which is formed like a cone on the spit and shawarmas or doners are thin layers of meat which, when sliced from the spit, come off in small bits.

But neither of us ordered the doners. Instead, we stayed with more familiar items, like our appetizer of hummus. This was a smooth blend of mashed garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil, and garlic, and we both agreed that it was far more flavorful than the rather bland hummus we ordered at Babylon Café. And, instead of being served with pita, it came with a basket of soft house-made bread, which was delicious when slathered with the hummus.

Chuck ordered his Mediterranean favorite—the Greek Gyro Sandwich. This was a monster, maybe the largest one we have been served, and was stuffed with garlic seasoned beef and lamb with lettuce, tomato, and onion inside a soft pita. To me, the tzatziki-like sauce was a bit tasteless and the gyro meat was no match for that served at Babylon Café. In the latter case, the meat was sliced thicker and was grilled which intensified the flavors.

His accompanying fries were first rate—super crunchy on the outside with a good cooked-potato texture and flavor on the inside.

I had done some reading prior to our visit and came across the following: “Courtyard Grill serves a crossroads cuisine, specializing in regal dishes from both the Turkish and Persian traditions. While many items look familiar on the menu, they often turn out very differently on the plate. The baba ghanoush, for instance, starts as the usual smoky, creamy eggplant spread, but the special version here is served over layers of sliced, grilled eggplant and topped by a fresh mix of sautéed vegetables and sumac” (Ian McNulty at

He seemed to be describing the Courtyard Mediterranean Babaganush, whose composition differed slightly from Mr. McNulty’s description. It started with slices of eggplant which were covered with the babaganush. But the vegetables were fresh chopped tomatoes and red onions and mint and cilantro replacing the sumac. This was listed as an appetizer--although I made it my lunch entrée—and there was enough food to feed all eight of us in the café with leftovers. It was delicious, but a good portion returned home with me that afternoon.

Whose food was better? Babylon Café or Courtyard Grill? Here we have a small difference of opinion. I give the edge to the former. Chuck to the latter. Still, you can’t go wrong with either and we both enjoyed our 4.0 Addie lunch.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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