Today marked only our second visit to Andy's Mediterranean Grille in eight years. There have been a lot of changes in that time, of course, but it was more our love for Mediterranean food than the memory of our first visit that had drawn us back for another try.
The restaurant is near East Walnut Hills, a region of Cincinnati my girlfriend describes as being "on the cusp of a bad side of town." There is no parking lot to accommodate patrons, only a handful of metered spaces immediately outside Andy's and whatever else one can find along the street.
After paying 50 cents for the parking meter, we proceeded inside, where it was quickly evident how much the place had changed over the years. Our memories of Andy's interior included white walls, open windows and general brightness. My girlfriend remembered that the ladies room had been "out of order" during our first visit, so for years we'd simply called this place, "the restaurant with the broken bathroom." This time around, the place looked dramatically darker: lots of browns, burnt reds and faux-stuccoed walls. And both bathrooms were now functioning.
We walked past the bar and up a small flight of stairs to our dining area. We sat at a small table of our choosing, where we had a good view of the bar below. Our server quickly provided our menus, which were not easy to read in the dim light.
The prices for the lunch menu were strikingly expensive. All of the entrees were $15 or more, with most of them ranging in the $16-$22 range. More reasonable for lunch were the Pita wraps, which cost $7. Finally, we noted a "You Pick Three" lunch special that was $8. You could pick a house salad or olives as choice number one; hummus or lentil soup as choice number two; and a pita wrap for choice number three. The "pick three" option seemed our best bet.
My choices were olives, lentil soup and the Kibbeh pita wrap, which was described as chopped lamb, Bulgar wheat and onion, tomato, pickle, olive oil and lemon juice. My girlfriend chose the house salad, lentil soup and the hummus and falafel pita.
The salad and olives arrived within a few short minutes. My girlfriend's salad consisted of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, slices of red pepper, parsley and Andy's signature dressing, which the restaurant bottles and sells in nearby groceries. She felt it needed more seasoning, especially given the ratio of oil and vinegar. I gnawed on about 10 small green and red kalamata olives, which tasted appropriately briny and freshly cured.
Our next course was the pita wrap and a side of lentil soup. We both agreed the soup was completely devoid of flavor, even after we'd both tried to salvage it with salt and pepper. Included on each of our plates was a small round of pita bread, suitable for dipping into the bland soup.
The pita wraps fared much better. My lamb wrap seemed well cooked and easily complimented the other ingredients. I only wish there had been more than a few puny pieces. I tasted my girlfriend's hummus and falafel pita and thought it was even tastier than mine. There was a pleasing, fresh crispness to its flavor that compelled me to want to switch. While my girlfriend didn't like it as much as I, she agreed it was the best part of her meal.
Our waitress next presented us with a tray of various wrapped Baklawa. There were two types: a savory, buttery version of the treat and a sweeter recipe utilizing more honey. We tried both, of course, quickly concluding that the sweeter version won the contest.
Over the years, we have experienced much better Mediterranean food in the Cincinnati area than what we re-discovered at Andy's (Cafe Mediterranean and Mirage Mediterranean are our two current faves). The restaurant is more renowned because it heavily markets its pre-packaged falafel, dressing and other products sold in area stores. In our opinion, they need to spend more time on the quality of the food sold in their restaurant.