Tuning up our taste buds at Zaytún


LEO’s Eats with LouisvilleHotBytes.com

Want a fried whitefish sandwich on rye that’s as good as you’ll find in this fish-loving town? Want a gyros that’s bigger than your head, piled high with excellent Greek-style grilled beef and lamb, so big you really need to eat it with knife and fork?

Never before has one been able to enjoy such disparate ethnic goodies at a single table in Louisville.

Let’s hail the arrival of Zaytún Mediterranean Grill, a small, casual but attractive eatery that’s packing in crowds for lunch and dinner at the small Highlands spot that once housed Andrew’s, a forgettable diner.

There’s nothing forgettable about Zaytún, which brings together a bit of Persia and tastes of Lebanon, Egypt and Greece with a good shot of the U.S. of A.

Proprietor Remy Pouranfar, whose father owns Sharom’s on Outer Loop (another spot famed for first-rate fried fish), has beautifully remodeled the small, rhomboid room in bright colors of saffron, sage and paprika.

Born in Iran and raised in the U.S., Pouranfar’s blend of cultures is reflected in an affordable bill of fare with about 16 savories that range in price from $3 (for pita crunchers, a snack of fried and seasoned crunch strips of pita with creamy tzatziki sauce) to $9 (for Hot Bite Kabobs, nearly a half-pound of ground Angus beef meatballs skewered, grilled and served on flatbread). Spiced Persian tea is available both hot and cold; beverages also include Coca-Cola products, a short wine list and a good selection of microbrewery beers.

We dropped by for weekday lunch (the same menu runs through both midday and evening hours) and, tempted beyond endurance, ordered way too much.

The Baba Ghanouj ($4.50) is the Persian version of this classic eggplant dip, made not with tahini sesame seed paste but a fresh, finely chopped blend of seasoned roasted eggplant with onions and garlic, garnished with tzatziki sauce and diced tomatoes, served on chopped lettuce and surrounded with eight star points of warmed pita.

A small order of the Zeus Greek salad ($3) was a good representation of the style, chopped romaine with sliced red onions, diced tomatoes, thick-sliced cucumber, earthy pitted black olives and finely crumbled feta cheese, tossed with a full-flavored olive-oil vinaigrette.

The fried fish ($6.25), which Pouranfar said is based on his father’s recipe from Sharom’s, was a well-executed example of the Louisville classic. Mild, fresh white fish was cloaked in a light, crunchy, golden-brown coating, grease-free, and served on decent grocery seeded rye with homemade tartar sauce on the side.

The classic gyros ($7) is a variation of the usual Greek style; it’s served atop a large, oval “Euro-style” flatbread, thicker and more bread-like than traditional pita. It’s hinged so you could eat it out of hand, but I wasn’t about to try. The generous toppings  –  including thin-sliced, savory gyros meat, lettuce and tomatoes and red onions, plus add-ons of your choice (I went with feta cheese)  –  are piled so high that I couldn’t see opening my mouth that wide. I tucked into it with knife and fork and got through about half before calling for a doggie bag.

A shared wedge of baklava ($1.50), small but very rich, phyllo dough soaked in honey and stuffed with chopped pistachios, was as good as I’ve ever tried.

With a couple of glasses of Persian iced tea ($2), a filling lunch for two, with leftovers, came to $28.87, plus a $7.13 tip for excellent service.

I’m told Pouranfar has signed a lease for the old Diamante restaurant space a few doors up the block, with plans to open a more upscale but still-affordable restaurant there. After lunch at Zaytún, I figure I’ll be among the first in line at the new place.

Zaytún Mediterranean Grill
2286 Bardstown Road
Robin Garr’s rating: 86 points