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Pandemic-era Mediterranea in Grant Park remains proudly gluten-free

Mediterranea’s steak-frites comes with roasted potatoes, asparagus and chimichurri. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Mediterranea’s steak-frites comes with roasted potatoes, asparagus and chimichurri. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

A couple of smart, quirky gents with a combined 50 years in the book industry move from New York to Atlanta to open a restaurant. One of them suffers from celiac disease. The other grew up in a food-obsessed Italian household — with a kitchen for mom and a kitchen for dad — and went to culinary school to study pastry.

That’s the 5-second version of how Gerard Nudo and Gary McElroy came to be the proprietors of Mediterranea, a 3-year-old Grant Park restaurant that is 100 percent gluten-free (unless you count the beer) and inspired by the healthy cuisines of Greece and Italy.

This takeout order includes the steak-frites and watermelon spinach salad from Mediterranea in Grant Park. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
This takeout order includes the steak-frites and watermelon spinach salad from Mediterranea in Grant Park. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Originally envisioned as an all-day cafe, serving coffee and pastries in the morning, plus lunch and dinner, the handsome Ormond Street gem already had scaled back its service to dinner and Sunday brunch before the pandemic. (Those changes, the owners said, were necessitated by the abundance of new businesses that have sprouted up nearby since their arrival, making Grant Park and Summerhill a fiercely competitive food-and-drink sector.)

In mid-March, Mediterranea draped its windows, placed a bright-green wrought-iron table outside to use as a pickup station, and pivoted to takeout-only.

A takeout feast from Mediterranea might include a spinach salad with watermelon, steak-frites, dolmas and chicken tacos. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
A takeout feast from Mediterranea might include a spinach salad with watermelon, steak-frites, dolmas and chicken tacos. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Nudo said he spent a “couple of sleepless nights” implementing an online ordering platform. The menu was tweaked to include family meals and takeout-friendly items. Servers were enlisted as delivery drivers. (If you’re lucky enough to live nearby, they’ll scoot pizza, involtini and eggplant stacks to your door for an extra 5 bucks.)

That’s how the pandemic-era iteration of Mediterranea was born, a bit leaner, yet still proudly gluten-free. The staff has been whittled from 20 to 9. That includes Nudo, 59, who does the baking, and McElroy, 65, who designed the interior, minds the books and manages the beverages. Ian Anderson is chef.

Mediterranea’s blueberry “cheese” cake is vegan. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Mediterranea’s blueberry “cheese” cake is vegan. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Given the continuing pandemic, a location near the populous city center, and recent protests, the owners are hesitant to reopen the main dining room. Not even the al-fresco rooftop area, hailed by former Atlanta Journal-Constitution restaurant reviewer Wyatt Williams as a charming golden-hour haunt, is a possibility for now, given that it's storm season and the space is not covered.

As for business, “it would be a stretch to say we are doing well,” Nudo said candidly.

And, yet, Mediterranea soldiers on: “Quietly gluten-free and healthily Mediterranean,” as McElroy put it.

Truth be told, gluten-free options are hard to come by, and that has been a selling point.

“The gluten-free menu regularly brings people in from far outside the neighborhood,” Nudo said. “There are also celiacs in the neighborhood who order two or three times a week. Yet, our menu has always been designed to appeal to anyone. … A vast majority of our guests are not (looking for) gluten-free.”

A couple for 21 years, the restaurateurs worked at Rizzoli USA in Manhattan before moving South: McElroy in the bookstore, Nudo on the marketing side of the publishing house. McElroy was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003, not long after he quit smoking. “There is likely some weird suppression of celiac and other gastrointestinal diseases among smokers,” he said. “I had been a smoker since my teens.”

He changed his diet right away, and missed pasta and desserts most. “Over time, we’ve found more than adequate, often excellent ingredient replacements,” McElroy said. Not to mention, a restaurant and a community to call their own.

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MEDITERRANEA

Menu: Greek and Italian, without the gluten

What's new: gluten-free pizza; family meals (currently, a 10-taco meal for $40)

Alcohol: beer and wine to go

What I ordered: spinach watermelon salad, dolmas, steak-frites, chicken tacos, vegan blueberry "cheese" cake. I demolished the tacos, juicy with slaw, aioli and feta, and really loved the salad, a classic spinach, bacon and egg melange, with cubes of sweet melon. I requested the steak medium rare; alas, it was cooked through, but still good, especially drizzled with the chimichurri accompaniment. Lastly, not a crumb of vegan cheesecake was left!

Service options: order online or by phone; pickup outside restaurant; in-house delivery to surrounding communities

Safety protocols: follows all government-recommended guidelines; contact-free pickup

Address, phone: 332 Ormond St. SE, Atlanta; 404-748-4219

Hours: 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays

Website: mediterraneaatl.com

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