I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I have extended family members that are a bit skeptical of out-of-the-ordinary cuisine. Call it Conservation of Foodie Curiosity: there are people who like their meals simple, the way they like them, darn it, and they don’t want to try out that new hole-in-the-wall down the street with the awesome (insert favorite ethnic food here). This week, I found a place that might just be a nice crossover for those slightly picky eaters: the Cava Mezze Grill.
With locations in Bethesda and Tysons Corner Center (the latter having opened just a couple of weeks ago), Cava Mezze Grill presents an interesting culinary concept. When I walked in on Saturday night, I was struck by its resemblance to another fast-casual chain: Chipotle. Indeed, this place seems to have adapted that delivery concept entirely. You walk up to a counter, your meal is custom-built in front of you step-by-step (or they’ll build you one of their chef’s suggestions), and the cash register is at the end of the line. I wasn’t sure how well Mediterranean cuisine would fit this model, but I love a good stuffed pita or gyro. I wasn’t disappointed with the result – the meal was good, if not mind-blowing – and I think this place fits that perfect niche between “great culinary find” and “chain restaurant” for the less curious among us.
I tried a few different items on my pita, which was served warm and quickly assembled on the line. The cooks were happy to put hummus and tzatziki sauce on opposite sides of the pita, as well as lamb meatballs on one end and braised beef on another. For toppings, I asked for lettuce, feta cheese, red cabbage, red onions, and kalamata olives. The big hits in my pita were the lamb meatballs: flavorful and paired nicely with the two sauces I chose. Honestly, the beef paled a bit in comparison. The toppings were fresh – crisp lettuce on an assembly line is a nice touch – and the whole thing worked well together, despite my seemingly random choices. I’d be very interested to try some of their chef’s suggestions: they recommend a chicken pita with tzatiki, cucumber, tomato, onion, and feta, or a falafel pita with eggplant and red pepper dip, hummus, and cucumber. My wife tried one of their healthier options – a salad topped with falafel. Crisp lettuce, tasty falafel, and flavorful Greek vinaigrette did a lot for the salad, even though her topping choices were a bit spare compared to what’s suggested on the menu.
The food was good, as I said, but not stellar, which is why I think this is a great in-between step for your less-adventurous friends and family. Any Chipotle fan can tell you that while that restaurant is good, it’s not amazing, gotta-tell-everyone-about-that-place Mexican food. But it’s a fairly routine stop for quite a few of us, particularly when taking a group. Similarly, while I think you could probably get a more authentic stuffed pita elsewhere in the area, the Cava Mezze Grill seems to be trying hard to reach a broader audience. I have to commend them for that – it’s tough to balance genuine ethnically inspired cuisine with broader palates, but they did it well. And for $6.95 a pita (though salads or bowls are a dollar more), it’s reasonable enough for a quick lunch anytime you’re in the area.
The Cava Mezze Grill is now open in Tysons Corner Center and Bethesda. New locations are scheduled to open later this year in Columbia Heights, Tenleytown, and Merrifield.
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