Our Gourmet: Travelers come home to a Mediterranean treat

March 27. 2018 11:55PM
An entree order of Chicken Shawarma at Maza in Nashua. Entree plates come with three sides. 
Maza Mediterranean Grill
274 Daniel Webster Highway, Nashua; 888-7500; mazamedgrill.com

Middle Eastern/Mediterranean.

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday-Saturday until 9 p.m., Sunday until 7.

Pricing: Salads $6-$8, wraps $7-$9, entrees $8-$10.

The scores for Maza
Atmosphere: 15/20
Menu: 16/20
Food: 20/20
Service: 16/20
Value: 20/20
TOTAL: 87/100

Don't be confused by the mannequins in the window -- Maza Mediterranean Grill in Nashua is located in the storefront to the right of its sign.

Mrs. Gourmet and I were on vacation last week, and after eating in restaurants for five straight days, we weren’t especially excited about coming home and having to go out to eat again for a review.

But duty called, so out we went — and we were richly rewarded. After eating our way up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida, perhaps our best meal of the week (sorry, Crabby Bill) came at a fast-casual Middle Eastern restaurant in the middle of Nashua’s south-end retail whirl.

Maza Mediterranean Grill looks out on busy Daniel Webster Highway from the front wing of the building that (for a little longer, anyway) houses Toys “R” Us in the Webster Square plaza.

It’s a fairly small storefront, with seating for maybe 40 people in low-top and high-top tables, booths for two and counters. The kitchen and serving counter, with menu board overhead, is straight ahead as you enter.

The menu is concise, with six entree plates, six wraps, five salads and a varying assortment of sides, which aren’t listed on the menu board, but are displayed at the counter where they’ll be identified for you as you order.

The process was simple. We picked our entree plates, then were guided through the array of sides to make our choices of three each. We were told our food would be brought to the table, so we moved down the line to grab drinks from the cooler and then on to the cash register. (Fountain drinks are also available; we saw no alcohol.)

While we waited our turn to order, we watched a kitchen crew member running discs of dough through a machine like an oversized pasta roller and then tossing them onto the flat metal floor of an open oven where they almost immediately puffed up into the fresh, hot pita loaves (white or wheat) that come with every entree.

I ordered the Chicken Shawarma plate ($9.49), curious how the version I make from time to time at home stacks up against an authentic Middle Eastern version.

Maza’s is better. Much better.

As we were at the counter, I saw a crew member carrying a spit stacked with freshly roasted chicken, and I knew I was in for a treat. For one thing, there were no grill-blackened edges like mine. For another, cooking the meat packed together on a spit retains more of the moisture that drips down into my grill, causing the flare-ups that lead to the aforementioned blackened edges.

At least my flavorings are close. Blended with the juices of the chicken, the cumin, coriander, garlic, tumeric and other spices in Maza’s shawarma form a luxurious marinade that infuse the meat, which is sliced off the spit into bite-size chunks.

The shawarma sat atop a combination of bulgur and lentils, one of my sides, and together they formed a fantastic dish. I added sides of tomato, cucumber and mint salad (thankfully, the mint was a gentle background presence) and babaganoush (a slightly lemony version, yet with a smoky sense of its grilled eggplant roots, and a perfect spread for that fresh wheat pita.)

Mrs. G opted for the Lamb Kofta Kabob plate ($9.99). The two sausage-shaped rolls of spiced ground lamb with onions, garlic and herbs were roasted crisp outside, yet tender and juicy inside. For her sides, she ordered red-pepper hummus (much lighter in texture and flavor than the store-bought version), beet salad (pickled, giving a surprising initial punch) and roasted mixed vegetables (perfectly done).

Both the Chicken Shawarma and the Lamb Kofta Kabob are among Maza’s Halal offerings. Food designated as Halal is prepared in accord with Muslim dietary laws. This is the first time we’ve seen the Halal designation on a New Hampshire menu.

Desserts weren’t offered on the serving line, but were found packaged in small takeout containers at the register. There were three, so we brought one of each home: Baklava (not dripping with honey, not dry, but sweet and perfect), cashew rolls (nutty fingers of phyllo and crushed cashew paste) and osmalleya (a combination of shredded phyllo, clotted cream and crushed pistachios, which was our least favorite).

One of the things we love about Mediterranean food is that the flavors leave us with a bright, refreshed feeling, even after chowing down. That was definitely the case at Maza. An hour after we left, we were still smiling. Thankfully, the place by then had closed for the night, otherwise we might have been tempted to go back for more.

In our reviews, we’ve often said that a restaurant we liked would be on our “go again” list, but the reality is we hardly ever do go again, because we don’t have the time or free cash to revisit places on our own that we’ve already reviewed.

But I promise we’ll go back to Maza — often. The wonderful foods, quick service and extremely reasonable prices (our tab came to $37) are a combination that will bring us back again and again.

Our GourmetNashua

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