Mediterranean Palace makes a world-class falafel, a falafel that's worth a long drove to the corner of York Road and Northern Parkway.
I suspect that Maan Kanfsh knows he has a winner on his hands, and that's why he keeps handing out complimentary servings of his delicious fried chickpea patties. They're soft inside, crisp and nutty with sesame seeds outside. One bite of these unusual, doughnut-shaped morsels will start the Baltimore-area falafel-lover on a regular pilgrimage to this simple luncheonette.
Kanfsh and his wife, Randa, took over management of the sandwich shop at the end of May. Half of their menu lists things like overstuffed cold-cut submarines; the other half, the half that interested us, features Middle Eastern appetizers and entrees.
Unfortunately, nothing else we tried was quite on par with the stellar falafel. Service, though friendly, was spotty and slow, especially as the restaurant got busier. And the atmosphere was typical of a luncheonette with an open grill.
Thin plastic tablecloths and a couple of fake plants are the main embellishments at Mediterranean Palace; don't let the regal name fool you.
But if you like Middle Eastern food or want to experiment with something a little different, the Mediterranean Palace is worth a try.
One of the best ways to taste a number of things is to order the popular Mediterranean sampler. It includes baba ghannouj (roasted eggplant spread), hummus (a dip of ground chickpeas), falafel, tangy rice-stuffed grape leaves and a small mixed salad. A basket of warm pita wedges is served alongside for scooping and dipping.
Both the baba ghannouj and hummus were creamier than most and had a slight bitter edge from the addition of sesame tahini - an edge which we enjoyed. Another good pick is the falafel or chicken kebab sandwich. Both sandwiches are served with chopped salad in large warmed pitas.
The falafel comes with tahini sauce, while the moist chicken pieces are tossed with spices that are ruddy-colored and mild.
The sandwiches have more appeal than the bland kubbeh siniyeh platter, which features dense, dry squares of crushed wheat layered with a sparse filling of ground lamb.
Another option is to make a meal of appetizers. For $1.50, try a Syrian spinach pie, which is completely different from the Greek version. Wrapped in golden dough, this flat pastry is filled with mildly spiced spinach and onions.
We especially liked the foul, a strong-tasting salad of whole fava beans dressed in olive oil, tahini, chopped tomatoes and garlic.
Tabbouleh, made with bulgur wheat, chopped parsley and cucumber, was tamer than we're used to, without the assertive flavor of lemon, but it was still refreshing.
On Saturdays, Randa makes a homemade sweet cheese dessert called katyaff. If, like us, you visit during the week, content yourself with a cardamom-perfumed Turkish coffee and a selection of store-bought exotic sweets - a nutty roll dense with ,, pistachios; a delicate, crumbly pastry filled with a dark paste of dates; or a flaky, crisp baklava.
5926 York Road, Baltimore
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: None; cash only
Prices: Appetizers, $1.50-$4; entrees, $3.95-$9.99. (No liquor license.)
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 9/10/98