Tried Mezza Mediterranean Grill in Rochester, MI...
...and I guess that technically it's called "Mezza Mediterranean Grille and Bakery", and it's rather small in scale when compared to their other places. I had previously tried the chicken shwarma sandwich at their Orchard Lake location and been unimpressed by it.
"Unimpressed" would be a pretty kind descriptor of the food/experience last night. The service (such as it was) was pretty good, but they're trying to do "full service" in an atmosphere that could best be equated to something you might find at Cosi, only without those pesky refillable beverages. It just doesn't translate very well. All beverages, including water, are served from a bottle (though they do bring a plastic cup to the table, but no ice is available), and as such, you're charged for each beverage. There's no fountain drinks, refills...none of that. I find it more than just a bit annoying that bottled water is the only thing available, and at $1.29 a bottle (16.9 ounce), it's not exactly fair, either. I opted for the larger 24 oz. Coke for $1.99, since I was only going to be getting (read: *paying for*) one beverage.
Tables are bare-topped, except for the amenities like salt, pepper, and some tacky promotional stuff. Really: they shouldn't even be trying for full service, and should just give it up entirely. It's the wrong type of venue, and it fails. We never even considered tipping at 20%, as it's just not appropriate. Our server/manager aimed to please, yes, but the whole thing just doesn't work.
On to the food, which was just plain lousy. Edible, yes, but I'm writing this place (and its other locations) off after this visit...when you do business in a veritable Eden of Middle Eastern places, you'd best be able to bring your game up to par. Not one thing was truly good, save maybe the bread, and even when corrected, my entree wasn't good.
We started out with the freshly-baked bread, which was good, but the dipping sauce it was served with (served on a *styrofoam plate*!) was most certainly nothing to write home about. To be fair, I normally would order a small side of garlic sauce to scoop up with the bread, but I failed to think of it, don't think I cared for it very much at the Orchard Lake restaurant, and wouldn't have wanted the price of the meal to be any higher than it was.
I ordered lamb ghallaba ($16.95), which isn't on the online menu, and *shouldn't* be on their menu, period. I'll get to that in a minute. My friend Paul ordered the salmon filet. Each entree comes with soup or salad, and Paul got the lentil soup, and I got a fattoosh salad. What I *didn't* know when I was told about the fattoosh was that there's a $1.99 additional charge for a fattoosh salad, which the server didn't inform me of.
Oh, and that fattoosh salad? Big, and lousy. Very uninspired, not very flavorful, and pales in contrast to every other fattoosh salad I've ever had in my life. Ever. So, that's a big thing, there. Paul's lentil soup (I didn't try it) went mostly uneaten. In fact, there was a *lot* of food that went mostly uneaten, for good reason.
The lamb ghallaba of mine, which I *think* might have been the most expensive thing on the menu, or if not, darned close, was just cooked to stinking *death*. I kid you not: the meat was not recognizable to my palate/mouth as lamb. It registered as "dead, horrifically overcooked protein source", but there was nothing except overly chewy, nasty-tasting stuff. In fact, everything in the ghallaba was overcooked...the vegetables were basically wrecked. The sauce it came in was a morbid color, too.
When I commented on this to the server, he immediately put in an order with the cook for some more of it, making sure that this time, it wouldn't be overcooked, and when they brought it out the second time, it wasn't overcooked...fair enough. It was *still* lousy, though. It's got to be a pretty poor cut of lamb they're using, and while it was certainly better the second time around, the sauce wasn't helping (quite bitter, and still an off/odd color when not overcooked), and so you've basically gone from "basically inedible" to "pretty dreadful, but now edible". It was served with rice topped with slivers of almonds, none of which really had any flavor. A lot of my food was left uneaten.
Let me rephrase that: a lot of my $18.94 food (plus beverage, tax, and tip) went uneaten, even after it was corrected. Now, I'm not mad about the service...again: the guy was attentive to the problem, but honestly, he just doesn't have the tools to make good lamb ghallaba in the first place. While I'm no expert in the field, I've had lamb ghallaba from at least two other places in the area (La Pita, Shish Kebob Express, possibly one more), and I've *never* had it be anywhere near this bad. At $9, it'd be lousy. At $17, it's nothing shy of an outrage.
Paul's salmon didn't appear to fare much better, though he at least took the remainder home in a box with him. It appeared overcooked to me, *very* undersized at $15.95, and the complements on the plate were dreary, too. Both of us agreed that the food wasn't something we wanted to experience again, but I'm absolutely gobsmacked at what we ended up paying for it:
$16.95 + $15.95 + $1.99 (unspoken fattoosh upcharge) + $1.99 (Coke) + $1.99 (bottled green tea for Paul) + $2.33 (sales tax) + $5.80 (tip) = $47. Forty-seven dollars out the door, for some severely lousy food, in a quicker-serve atmosphere, with a hodgepodge of porcelain plates, silverware, plastic cups and bottles, styrofoam dipping plate, no tablecloths...not really much of *anything*.
To think that, down the street at Kruse & Muer's, Paul could have had the salmon, I could have had the crabcakes, unlimited refills of water and pop, true full service, *far better food*, better atmosphere, for LESS MONEY is honestly a-stinking-mazing to me. I'm really a bit upset by this, but what's the point in complaining? What are they going to do: offer me some more bad food, only this time at no charge?
I consider Mezza to be basically a complete loss. They just can't do Middle Eastern food with any skill, apparently, and they do it for a *ridiculously* large price. It would be hard for any other Middle Eastern place in the area *not* to do better than this place, in its various incarnations. Heck, the Chicken Shwarma lunch at Falaffel King on Woodward in Royal Oak is under $8, and it's quite good, includes fatoosh at no extra charge, garlic sauce for the pita bread, etc.
How a place that serves/destroys food this badly can exist and survive in this area with such a high Middle Eastern population, much less *expand*, is beyond my level of comprehension. That server might have been eager-to-please, but you've got to have the tools to work with, and this place just doesn't.
I cannot imagine the circumstance which would bring me back to the place, much less eat their lousy-yet-expensive food. In a word: fail. That might seem harsh, but I just can't fathom how any Middle Eastern restaurant could do much worse. Avoid.
And yes: I did think of doing some horrible little play on words such as "They Mezza'ed up my food!", but I think my review will probably cause enough groaning as it is. ;)
32748 Woodward Ave, Royal Oak, MI 48073
Mezza Mediterranean Grill
4189 Orchard Lake Rd, Orchard Lake, MI 48323
"How a place that serves/destroys food this badly can exist and survive in this area with such a high Middle Eastern population, much less *expand*, is beyond my level of comprehension."
Surprisingly, there are quite a few Middle Eastern places like this in the suburbs. Places that really dumb down the food and jack up the prices for people who don't know any better and/or are too afraid to go to more "ethnic"-seeming places in Dearborn. It's unfortunate.
Last week my daughter and I went to Pita Cafe in Birmingham. My daughter loved her falafel and hummus sandwich. I had a combo shish kebab, shish tawook and shish kafta and some hummus because I wanted to compare it to La Marsa's. It was not good at all! the lamb and chicken were totally way overcooked and dry while the Kafta was undercooked. Most of the food stayed on the plate. Even the hummus was underwhelming. And the bread wasn't fluffy like it is at La Marsa. And the salad was blah too and the dressing too vinegary. I love the salad and dressing at La Marsa! The whole experience was just so disappointing!