Dining Review: Freaky for Taziki's

New Greek eatery fills niche in East Memphis

Photos by Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal
Manager Collette Ellis makes a large Greek salad for a catering order in Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe.  The Birmingham, Ala. chain, which offers Greek food and a few Southern staples, opened recently near the Kroger at Mendenhall and Sanderlin.

Photo by Brandon Dill // Buy this photo

Photos by Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal Manager Collette Ellis makes a large Greek salad for a catering order in Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe. The Birmingham, Ala. chain, which offers Greek food and a few Southern staples, opened recently near the Kroger at Mendenhall and Sanderlin.

Mar 6, 2013 - A row of freshly cooked chicken spanakopita roll-ups, the Wednesday lunch special, lines the grill at Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by Brandon Dill

Mar 6, 2013 - A row of freshly cooked chicken spanakopita roll-ups, the Wednesday lunch special, lines the grill at Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Freshly cooked lamb gyros are a favorite at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe.

Photo by Brandon Dill

Freshly cooked lamb gyros are a favorite at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe.

This chargrilled lamb served with roasted new potatoes and a Greek salad is one of the specialty “feasts” served at Taziki’s.

Photo by Brandon Dill

This chargrilled lamb served with roasted new potatoes and a Greek salad is one of the specialty “feasts” served at Taziki’s.

Dolmades, hand-rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and herbs, are a popular starter or main dish.

Photo by Brandon Dill

Dolmades, hand-rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and herbs, are a popular starter or main dish.

Mar 6, 2013 - Michael Harkness waits on the lunch crowd inside Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by Brandon Dill

Mar 6, 2013 - Michael Harkness waits on the lunch crowd inside Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Mar 6, 2013 - Salvador Villarreal cooks seasoned chicken on the grill during lunch prep at Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by Brandon Dill

Mar 6, 2013 - Salvador Villarreal cooks seasoned chicken on the grill during lunch prep at Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

When Pei Wei closed by the Kroger grocery store at Mendenhall and Sanderlin, a little mystery developed about what would go in the space. The security guard on the lot was happy to offer that it was going to be a Greek restaurant.

But others who worked at Kroger insisted it was going to be a nail salon. While I enjoy a nice mani-pedi as much as anyone, all things considered, I’ll have the hummus.

Taziki’s is the latest in a growing line of fast-casual restaurants that have opened all over town. You know the drill: Place your order at the counter, take a number and have a seat. The difference between fast-casual and fast-food is that the quality of the food is much higher, comparable to a full-service restaurant, and the ambience is usually pretty pleasant.

Taziki’s serves mostly Mediterranean food. There’s hummus, gyros several ways, dolmades (quite good), Greek salad and lamb. But it’s a small chain that started in Birmingham and is affiliated with the Jim ‘n Nick’s restaurant family, so you’ll find Southern staples such as pimento cheese, chicken salad and egg and olive salad.

Let’s start there. The chicken salad is simple, not gussied up with fruit or nuts. It’s a solid, simple version of a classic, bound with just enough mayonnaise to hold the tender meat together.

The egg and olive salad, though, suffers from both too much mayo and the addition of bits of bacon; really, this is not a good idea. Adding olive to the egg salad is already an embellishment, but it works: the briny green olives brighten the richness of the eggs. The bacon, though, detracts with its distinct smokiness and a soggy texture from being in the wet salad.

The pimento cheese is the star of the three, and about as good as PC gets. Sharp cheddar, a light touch with the mayo, pimento and a dash of Tabasco come together to create an excellent example of one of the most Southern of all foods.

You can try them all by ordering Chicken Salad and Company. Three generous scoops of salad (you can choose the simple pasta salad, a tomato and cucumber salad, or a fruit cup in addition to the pimento cheese and egg and olive) are served with a smaller version of the Greek salad. The whole shebang is less than $9, and is more than a meal.

The lamb gyro is excellent, full of pieces of lamb grilled on a flat-top, topped with grilled onions, tomatoes, lettuce and “taziki” sauce (which is actually “tzatziki,” the traditional Greek yogurt and cucumber condiment from which the restaurant’s name presumably springs). Like all the gyros on the menu, it’s all tucked inside a wrapped pita bread.

The full dinners, or “feasts,” that we tried were also very good. The grilled pork loin was a stand out, tender, redolent with oregano and served with a tomato chutney aioli. With the feasts, you choose basmati rice or roasted potatoes, which are cut small and cooked in convection ovens until slightly crisp. The beef tenderloin was flavorful and tender, but cooked beyond the requested medium-rare. The salmon fillet was perfectly cooked and generous.

Taziki’s offers Dinner for 4 after 2 p.m. daily. Chicken breasts, roasted chicken, pork loin and leg of lamb are available, served with salad and rice or potatoes and optional grilled vegetables.

It’s a clean place with reasonably fast service, and it’s comfortable enough. It’s a bit loud, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on a visit with friends. There are daily specials, a small kid’s menu, and chocolate cake or baklava for dessert.

All said, it’s a likable spot and likely to become a go-to place for East Memphians seeking a quick and tasty meal.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

2 1/2 Stars

Food: 2 1/2 Stars

Service: 2 Stars

Atmosphere: 2 Stars

Address: 540 S. Mendenhall

Telephone: 901-290-1091

Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Reviewer’s choice: Chicken salad and company ($8.79); pimento cheese ($4.79 as an appetizer, served with excellent pita chips); grilled lamb gyro ($9.39); herb-roasted pork loin feast ($9.99); dolmades plate ($8.99)

Alcohol: None at present, but beer and wine should be available soon.

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