Here we are, a good solid month into 2018, and I am doing my best to put in a few foot miles and sling a couple of weights here and there. But as my old pal Kelley McKee once (or twice) said, “You can’t outrun poor nutrition.” Turns out he was right. You can’t do 1,000 jumping jacks and expect to drop the pounds if you’re slamming Big Bufords and Checkers fries after two bottles of wine at midnight on a Tuesday.
That’s the kind of program that keeps the scale heading in an unfavorable direction. And though I am not really tempted by fast food, there are several things I could change about my diet that would put me on the right path. Chip snacks are the hardest to give up. I still eat a lot of charcuterie, and salty meats and cheese apparently aren’t as good for you as I’d like to believe.
With all the fad diets out there the one I don’t consider a fad (though it isn’t talked about as much these days) is the Mediterranean Diet. Fashioned around fresh ingredients, minimizing anything from a can or box and incorporating a lot of fish as well as plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts make this not only a healthy but delicious diet. To get our midweek meal plan jumpstarted, we decided to give Abba’s Mediterranean Café a chance.
Just off of Old Shell Road, Abba’s is in the little strip of shops on Bit and Spur. It had been a while since I’d eaten there so it was time Katie got to have a little jolt of Mediterranean food in her newfound city.
Of the three other tables that sparsely populated the dining room, we got the feeling they were regulars. I particularly got a kick out of the little old ladies just a table away talking about the shortcomings and attributes of their house sitters as they enjoyed their meals.
Along with an actual paper menu there was a dry-erase board with crudely scribbled specials. We set sail on this sea with an appetizer called Shrimp Abbie ($7.95). There was a little confusion and a bit of a language barrier as our waiter asked if we wanted two of them. Apparently this is a single serving, but I didn’t care. I assured him one would be enough, and we were met with a plate of sauce on which a half dozen or more plump shrimp were placed. Billed as a spicy cream sauce, it had a lighter reddish hue and a slight amount of heat that came at you in waves.
I commented to my dining companion that it would be great to have some bread to dip in the sauce, but I then realized that would directly violate the rules of the diet. Already I was eating healthier, even if it was cream sauce.
With the fog of confusion lifting from the appetizer conversation, our kind waiter managed to sell us on the soup of the day, lentil ($3.95 per cup). I only like lentils in small doses but this cup was better than decent. One of our other neighboring tables brought to everyone’s attention that there were whole garlic cloves in her soup. It was made clear by the chef that this was intentional. Our soup was no different, and I frankly enjoyed the garlic, cooked enough to remove the sting and yielding a sweeter taste. There was a good splash of vinegar, but with the garlic I’d say this is a good one for flu season.
For my entrée, I had Sammy’s Lamb ($18.95) with rice. Three big chunks of lamb were topped with a vinegary wine reduction sauce that softened up a generous amount of cabbage, mushrooms and walnuts. Normally I like my lamb still baaing, but this wasn’t that cut of meat. This was more like a lamb meatloaf, kind of like chunks of what you’d normally slice for a gyro. I’m in no way saying it was bad, just that it wasn’t what I was expecting. The rice had a bit of color to it, maybe a little tomato.
We went in here having heard a buzz about the grouper ($14.95). It was served with your choice of blackened, Lamona or Debrenda. Katie chose the latter, though we’d never heard of the preparation, choosing solely on the use of artichokes.
Lightly battered pan-fried grouper was in an orange-colored sauce smothered with tender, crisp vegetables, heavy on red peppers, yellow bell peppers, artichoke hearts and asparagus. The fish was cooked perfectly and the only real complaint was that the large asparagus was a little on the woody side. Maybe the peppers overpowered the fish a bit but in all it was a fun time, served with a side of pasta with a little cheese and a little olive oil, kind of like pasta with cacio e pepe.
The chef was very hands on and engaging with each customer, asking about our dishes, and told us he’d bring us some baklava ($1.50) for dessert. This pistachio version is like one I unsuccessfully attempted to make from an Egyptian cookbook given to me by Cliff Fulkerson. I kept burning the pistachio! Having it done right was incredible, with the only sweetness coming from the nuts and a bit of honey.
I also ordered a lemon icebox pie ($4.95) that tasted like the boxed ones in the grocery freezer section. I’m not complaining.
A couple glasses of cabernet ($6 each) and a hot tea ($1.95) left us with a bill in the $70 range with a good bit of leftovers.
The verdict is: I like this place. I think maybe it’s a little under-seasoned but the veggies and fish are very fresh, using organic when available. The Mediterranean diet may be a little lower in sodium than I’m used to but more herbs could take care of that. I’d love to have known the lamb was meatloaf, but I didn’t ask. Also, that may have bumped the price up to the $30 range.
Give this place a try. Bring your own wine and pay a corkage fee.
Abba’s Mediterranean Café
4861 Bit and Spur Road