It's hard to keep a secret for long in New Orleans, especially when it comes to eating and imbibing. It's surprising, then, that one of the city's finest outdoor dining spaces still seems to be relatively under wraps.
Decorated in the calming, seaside hues of robin's-egg blue and white, the covered patio at Mezze Mediterranean is just off the main shopping drag, but can transport diners a world away with its long, pillow-strewn benches and retreat-like feel of respite from sidewalk passersby just a few yards away.
A simple rule to follow when glancing over Mezze's expansive (almost intimidating) menu is if it sounds like a deviation from familiar Mediterranean restaurant fare, try it. Mezze has heavy Turkish undercurrents, and a number of dishes that make standards like hummus and stuffed grape leaves easy to skip. Before the meal, the restaurant delivers a fluffy, glossy sesame-spotted loaf of bread with a garlic-heavy swirl of tomato and olive oil for dipping.
The menu is primarily divided into hot and cold "mezzes," many of which arrive in generous portions despite their status as appetite-whetting bites. Opt for the cold mezze platter to sample four snack-sized mezze portions. Carrot tarator is not a dish to passup, with the crisp, fresh bite of carrot and woodsy richness of walnut held together by minty, lemon-bright yogurt sauce. Haydari is another must-try, with pungent, thick herb-laced yogurt sauce revealing itself as tzatziki's bolder, more interesting cousin. Barbunya — a cold bean salad similar to the vinegary pinto bean concoction popular across the South — is hearty and refreshing, with an earthy flavor profile that brings together a spectrum of colorful vegetables.
Warm mezzes aren't available in a sampler pack but are easier to navigate than their cold counterparts. For cured-meat lovers, there's sujuk — a mottled beef sausage sliced into wedges and covered in a web of mild, cheddarlike Kashkaval cheese. The same cheese — popular across Eastern Europe — also is melted over golf ball-sized meatballs called kofta, which are stewed in thick tomato sauce. Sweet and dense, the meatballs' flavor and texture are more reminiscent of crumbly meatloaf than the typical crown jewels of a spaghetti plate. Lahmacun — known colloquially, the waiter said, as "Turkish pizza" — looks like an edible flying saucer, with a tissue paper-thin layer of ground, seasoned beef covering a crisp round of pita bread. Its flavors are most pronounced when drizzled with a squeeze of lemon.
Main courses are limited and less inspired than their mezze counterparts, with the most promising dish — char-broiled ground beef and lamb wrapped in tortillas called beyti — too heavily doused in sauce to allow the meat's smoky flavors to shine.
The cocktail selection reads more like nightclub fodder than dinnertime sippers, with the exception being the traditional Turkish drink raki (or "lion's milk"). Raki is an aromatic, cloudy-white anise-flavored liqueur that both surprises the palate with its thin, milky texture and invigorates the senses with a spicy, none-too-sweet flavor. (The menu cautions that drinking raki can lead to a night of "dancing on tables.") A handful of Turkish beer and wine options are a welcome presence on the drinks list, and the restaurant would be well-served to grow its stable of Turkish drinks as a distinguishing feature.
A surprising deep dive into Turkish cuisine awaits at Mezze, with a fine ambience and novella-sized list of dishes that will keep diners coming back.