A vegetarian’s paradise with no tofu

Mezze serves non-meat cuisine in all sorts of interesting, appetizing and healthy ways.

Food at Mezze 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Food at Mezze 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eating out as a vegetarian these days is nowhere near as challenging as it used to be, especially in a bustling, liberal, alternative metropolis like Tel Aviv. I’ve gotten used to the fact that wherever my friends or family choose to eat out, I’ll generally be able to find the three or four vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly items on the menu and pick one. Luckily I’m not lactose or gluten intolerant, or my choices would be down to one or two at best. Still, it’s a passable situation. The level of cuisine in Tel Aviv is generally pretty good, and I enjoy the experience of eating out, so I suck it up.
However, none of this changes the fact that eating at a vegetarian restaurant is always a fantastic treat for me. To be able to choose literally anything on the menu is almost too much choice, but at Mezze it’s the type of overwhelming that I’m willing to put up with.
Founded by husband and wife team Efrat and Gal Barzilai seven years ago, Mezze is nestled behind a leafy courtyard on Ahad Ha’am Street in central Tel Aviv, a hop skip and a jump from Rothschild Boulevard. The vegetarian couple made an ideological decision not to fill the menu with meat substitutes such as tofu, seitan and tempe. Instead, Efrat told us, Mezze aims to make “tasty, interesting food, using what nature gave us.” She also noted that the kitchen uses as little oil as possible and focuses meals around fresh vegetables and whole grains with lots of antioxidants.
We decided to share a few “mezze” dishes to taste as much of the menu as possible. The “secret” tehina (NIS 18), which we were told is made from whole sesame seeds and spiced with silan and a confidential selection of herbs, was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I fancy myself as something of a tehina connoisseur. The tehina of the week with walnuts and mint was also impressive; a fresh and interesting take on the classic Mediterranean dip. Making our way through a stack of warm brown pita, we demolished the black-eyed peas with tomatoes, garlic and coriander (NIS 20) and the chick peas with sundried tomatoes (NIS 19). The herb and seed salad, an afterthought suggested by our waitress, was one of the highlights of the meal – full of flavor but not drowning in dressing and complementing everything else on the table perfectly.
Truth be told, the mains were far less interesting than the openers. I’d recommend sticking to a few of the specialty Mezze plates unless you’re really starving. We took the black rice with cubes of pumpkin, sun-dried tomatoes, beans and feta, which was a little bland but easily rectified with some salt (NIS 46); and the green shakshuka (NIS 44), which was quite heavy on the pepper but served with tasty fresh whole grain ciabatta, which soaked up a lot of the kick.
All dishes on the menu are made on the premises, and it shows. Everything we ate tasted fresh and free of chemicals and preservatives. I should note that my dinner companion is an enthusiastic meat eater and generally not a fan of tapas-type meals. Nonetheless, she too liked preferred the starters over the mains and noted how the variety of flavors worked together so well that she didn’t bemoan the absence of meat once.
Sitting with us after we finished our mains and before wowing us with the cafe’s signature pistachio cake (NIS 30), Efrat told us that the restaurant is a favourite with Israelis, Anglo olim and tourists. Just last week, she said, two girls had come straight from the airport to dig into the famous cake. Served with silan, tehina, halva and sour cream, this unique dessert is really not to be missed – another reason to stick with the lighter meals and save some room.
A note for English speakers, though. The English menu isn’t always up to date, so it’s worth checking with your waiter before getting settled on something and being disappointed.
Although it doesn’t have official kashrut certification, the fact that the restaurant serves no meat and isn’t open on Shabbat has made it popular among Tel Aviv’s religious population.
I’ve heard great things about the breakfast menu and the business lunch deals, though we didn’t get a chance to taste any of them during this dinner.
All in all, the food is healthy, fresh and varied; the atmosphere is relaxed and casual; the service is fast and friendly; the prices are reasonable; and it’s smack in the middle of Tel Aviv. There will definitely be a next time at Mezze for me.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Mezze Closed on Shabbat. No kashrut certificate 51a Ahad Ha’am Tel Aviv (03) 629-9753