Mediterranea offers a pleasant rooftop dining experience. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Up the staircase is the path to, perhaps, Mediterranea’s greatest asset. The rooftop dining area here is not notable for a grand view but for a charming mood. On a recent weeknight, when we arrived at the last minutes of twilight, I found myself immediately relaxed by the neighboring green trees, the light breeze. It is a place that I would gladly dine for hours.
If you grab one of these seats, the waitress will no doubt inform you, as she did us, that the restaurant is fully gluten-free, even including gluten-free beer. Though, she did add, they do offer a few beers in the traditional style, as well. This is, I imagine, some great comfort to diners with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, to not have to worry over ordering the wrong thing. On the other hand, I’d say one of the more impressive accomplishments of Mediterranea’s menu is that it doesn’t seem to even consider wheat a possibility. If the server had not mentioned it, I might not even have noticed that it wasn’t there.
The options, instead, are abundant with vegetables. No doubt you should start with something from the shared plates, spreads and crudites or pickled antipasti, which will arrive in long, sectional plates perfect for plucking with your fingers. It is this portion of the meal that I could have dragged out all night, sipping a glass of Barbera del Monferrato and alternating lightly spicy bites of cherry-size Calabrese peppers and petits poivrons, the tiny, sweet teardrop-shaped peppers sometimes known as sweety drops.
The house salad is a pleasant continuation of this simplicity. It is a pleasure to look at: a big bowl full of big, torn leaves of light green bibb lettuce topped with eye-catching shaved watermelon radish. But the flavor is packed mostly in with a generous handful of toasted pistachios and soft sweet onion. Like the view from the roof, it is not a stunner, but undeniably pleasant, the kind of dish that is impossible to feel bad about eating.
An entree of pan-roasted branzino is served with Mediterranean orzo at Mediterranea in Grant Park. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
The entrees at Mediterranea are not quite as flawless, though they do give plenty of pleasure. A plate of branzino and orzo features fillets of fish pan-fried to a notable golden-brown crisp. A plate of involtini, here interpreted as thin slices of squash and zucchini wrapped around halloumi, is a fine showcase of that dense, satisfying cheese. Both, though, suffer from a too-subtle approach to flavor and, especially, acid. A big pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon went a long way to brighten up the branzino, but the orzo tasted of little more than, well, olive oil. It was good, but I longed for, say, a pesto of fresh herbs or preserved lemon sauce to make it sing. Likewise, the involtini wanted to be more crisp than it was, the accompanying pepper sauces more reduced and concentrated.
The other weekend, I made brunch plans with a buddy for a Sunday morning. He planned to hit the gym, I intended to pick up some vegetables at the Grant Park Farmers Market, and we would meet on the sunny roof of Mediterranea and bask in the sun, living the lifestyle that a place like Mediterranea might help one aspire to. As it happened, the rain poured down, which canceled my farmers market plans, convinced my buddy to sleep in rather than hit the gym, and, of course, closed the rooftop seating at Mediterranea. Of course, you can’t blame a restaurant for the rain, but Mediterranea is a place about more than what’s on the plate.
Green shakshuka at Mediterranea features eggs baked onto a savory bed of collard greens. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
We met instead in the first-floor dining room, and instead of our healthy goals, we ordered a round of bloody marys and an extra plate of home fries with our meal. He had the almond milk risotto porridge, and I got a plate of green shakshuka, eggs poached in a dense tangle of dark, braised greens with a pleasant splash of garlic-spiked yogurt. Even if you’re trying to indulge, the menu here steers you back to wholesome pleasures. We both enjoyed the meal, and certainly the house-made hot sauce, a dark green, powerful concoction our waitress said the chef is calling “James Brown.” It did the trick on those potatoes, for sure. Maybe it wasn’t the meal we had aspired to, but such is life. The Mediterranea we imagine is maybe impossible to find, but the real one is still quite good.
The main dining room at Mediterranea is modern, with muted colors and indirect lighting. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: Mediterranean-influenced, mostly vegetarian cooking
Service: casual and friendly
Best dishes: house salad, green shakshuka, antipasti
Vegetarian selections: most of the menu
Price range: $-$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 7 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays (coffee and bakery); 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays (lunch); 5:30-9:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays, 5-10 p.m. Saturdays(dinner); 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sundays (brunch)
Parking: street parking
Reservations: available online
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: quiet, peaceful
Patio: yes, on the roof
Address, phone: 332 Ormond St., Atlanta. 404-748-4219