One of the first places I ever wrote about here on Exploring Food My Way was a stop for lunch at an old college haunt, the Mad Greek. Having moved out of Cleveland in 1997, I don't tend to get back for a meal very often. Historically, when I have come for a visit, there were other places I absolutely had to hit (like Grum's). Sadly, this meant that the Mad Greek was usually overlooked. From what I had heard from other Cleveland food friends, the quality of the food also suffered from too much fluctuation, teetering between great and horrible.
With my current client (my day job) being just outside of the Case Western Reserve campus, I suddenly had the opportunity to try this stalwart out once again. Seeing as it had been forever and a day since I had hooked up with a college mentor and friend, Paul, I suggested we head there for lunch. Paul agreed and before you knew it, we had pulled into the parking lot behind the set of storefront shops that housed the restaurant.
The Mad Greek was located at 2466 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106 and can be reached at 216-421-3333. Their website can be located here. There was streetside parking, but most every time I've come to eat here, I've utilized the previously mentioned lot that was behind the building.
Here was a shot of the entrance to the Mad Greek:
Once inside, we were shown to a small table near the rear of the restaurant. Our hostess handed us menus and left us to peruse them:
When our server stopped back to take our order, Paul asked her if they had a specialty. "Palak Tikka, " she responded quickly. Seeing Paul's confused look on his face, she continued, "It's a curried spinach and chicken dish that is served with Jasmine rice." Apparently satisfied with her description, Paul ordered that dish, spice level 4 (see photo above for explanation of spice levels).
I, on the other hand, already knew I was in the mood for Palak Paneer. Instead of spinach and chicken, mine was spinach and cheese. Originally turned on to this Indian specialty by my Scranton-based friend Chris, once I got over how it looked, I was once and forever hooked on how wonderful it tasted. The menu didn't list Palak Paneer, per se, but under the menu item "Paneer," it gave you the option of a spinach curry or a tomato-based treatment. Clearly I choose spinach and I ordered mine spice level 3.
Before our server left, I asked Paul if he wanted to split an appetizer and after agreeing, I completed our order with something from the Greek side of the menu, Saganaki. After our server retreated to the kitchen to place our order, Paul, looking a little confused, said, "I thought this was supposed to be the Mad GREEK. What's with all the Indian food?" I explained that the restaurant had always had this dual personality (at least as far back as I can remember) and besides, the Saganaki we were about to enjoy was from the Greek side of the menu.
Our server soon returned with a pile of the always awesome warmed and fresh pita wedges:
From what I've gathered through anecdotal evidence, the fresh pitas were first brushed with some type of oil before being lightly grilled on the flattop. These are so good that 9 times out of 10, we always have to ask for more to accompany our appetizers. Today's version was equally as delicious as those I remember from my college days. At least that hadn't changed.
After laying down the pita bread on our table, our server got busy doing the final presentation of the Saganaki. Saganaki is traditionally made from a Greek cheese called Kasseri. The cheese was first baked, brought to the table and then flamed tableside for maximum effect. Doused with a little bit of lemon juice, it was then cut up and eaten with the pita bread.
Here was a shot of the now doused Saganaki:
Kasseri was such an ideal cheese for this dish because it doesn't get all melty and gooey as something like Mozzarella would. The combination of the strong salty cheese with a bit of acidity from the lemon juice and the faint flavor of the rum / brandy combination used to flame the cheese all combined to make this dish quite delicious. Paul had never had anything like it before and asked if he could take the rest home for his wife to try. While it probably wouldn't be as good cold as it was piping hot out of the kitchen, I certainly wasn't going to be the one to deny him that pleasure.
Several minutes later, our lunches arrived at the table. Here was a shot of my Paneer dish:
Paul's dish was nearly identical except that in his, he had large chunks of chicken; mine were cubes of cheese. Upon closer inspection of the spinach and cheese portion of my entrée,
I noticed the presence of chickpeas as well. Now, the mere presence of chickpeas in Indian cuisine is not what surprised me. I have had plenty of tasty dishes containing this legume. What surprised me were their presence in THIS dish. Just like spinach and chicken and spinach and cheese, there was also another classic Indian dish, Palak Chana, that was essentially spinach and chickpeas. The Mad Greek's version had sort of combined Palak Paneer and Palak Chana into one hybrid dish. Alright, enough with the nitpicking ... how did it taste?
In a word, tasty. The spice level on mine, a 3 if you remember, was just perfect. I'd say for me it was right around a medium spice level (even though the scale indicated medium hot). Paul's, a 4, was pretty darn hot. With two additional levels of heat available, Paul confessed that he couldn't imagine what a 6 would be like. The curry flavor on my dish was nicely balanced with the other flavors on the dish. The spinach tasted fresh and the chickpeas added a nice crunchy element to each bite. The rice, fresh and studded with various spices and nuts, was also quite good.
Overall, I really enjoyed my lunch today at the Mad Greek. If they had suffered from quality issues before, today proved to dispel those rumors completely for me. Since they are so close to where I currently work, I suspect I will be going back for a few more meals over the next year, so any irregularities should present themselves by then. But as far as my experiences have been so far, I would suspect that you, too, will have a positive experience, whether you eat from the Greek menu, the Indian menu, or both.