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Mediterranean restaurants in Toledo labor under a fairly large shadow cast by the Beirut and Byblos.
Those classic restaurants set the dining bar pretty high, and they're generally bustling with activity and a sense of purpose. Out-of-towners are directed to the Beirut especially, and it can be tough to carve out a middle eastern food niche among the city's dining options when bumping up against these two institutions.
Barada Mediterranean Cuisine on Monroe Street has long operated successfully in this environment, making its own way with a large menu, great service, and food that rises to the occasion more often than not. The only problem with the restaurant now is that it could use some sprucing up to help attract more business. During the two weekday visits my companion and I made, the place was virtually empty with just us and one other pair of diners each time.
We started each meal with hummus ($5.95), which comes with pita bread, sliced cucumbers, kalamata olives, and onion. The hummus is delicious and the olives addictive, making for a perfect appetizer.
We ordered the Granny's Best ($12.95), which is cubed tenderloin sauteed with green peppers, onions, and mushrooms in a red wine sauce. The meat was a bit chewy, but the sauce was rich and flavorful and especially good soaked up in the button mushrooms.
BARADA MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE * * *
Address: 5215 Monroe St. Phone: 419-843-2080.
Menu: Middle Eastern.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average price: $$.
Credit cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: No, but there is a Facebook page.
Ratings: * * * * * Outstanding; * * * * Very Good; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor.
Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.
The Damascus combo ($13.95) -- shish kafta and shish tawook over a bed of rice and hummus -- was a big, hearty meal that was ideal for a time when you're especially hungry. I found Barada's shish kafta (aka "Mediterranean meat loaf") a step above anyone else's. Lamb meat blended with onion, parsley, and spices, it was flavorful but subtle; the spices didn't overwhelm the meat.
One of the specials on a return visit was broiled chicken ($10.95) that came in a huge serving and was quite good. Unfortunately it was a bit cold when it first came out, but our waitress quickly heated it up and returned. It came with rice and green beans on the side.
We also tried the Mediterranean salmon ($13.95), which featured a smallish but reasonably sized slab of salmon sauteed in lemon and garlic sauce. The flavoring on the fish was strong but appropriate, and the steak fries on the side were exceptional due to their ample size and perfect level of doneness.
Our waitress on our second visit was exceptional. When she noticed that the large Greek salad that came with the chicken was far too much for a member of our party, she suggested getting another bowl and splitting it up between us, which was a great idea. She was friendly and helpful without being overbearing, and she kept our coffee mugs and water glasses full.
She also did a good job of persuading us to try the baklava ($1). Made in the Detroit area, it was fresh and quite good with a subtle sweetness that prevented it from being cloying or too heavily steeped in honey, which can be a turn-off when eating that middle eastern dessert.
The interior of Barada, which has a full bar, is nondescript and just feels a bit tired. The blinds are chipped in places and the foyer has an odd odor that's an immediate turn-off.
The other issue, which the proprietors likely can't help, is that it's odd to eat in a place that seems so abandoned on a weeknight. We're guessing that if you picked up the restaurant and plopped it down in a suburb of Columbus or some other larger more bustling city -- one where the Beirut and Byblos don't loom large -- Barada would be far more popular and busy and praised for its authenticity.
Contact Bill of Fare at: firstname.lastname@example.org.