From the Sea

Mediterranean Fare is Everywhere

By Liza Hawkins | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 10.01.16 – Dining, Feature, Food & Drink

Through tall, vertical paned windows, the vast, green Grecian landscape spills gently towards rocky cliffs that lead to the deep-blue Mediterranean Sea. Olive trees dot acres upon acres of hills, and endless lengths of vines—bursting with plump and juicy grapes—are ripe for the picking. Stepping lightly onto cool terracotta tile and catching a bit of the warm breeze, it’s easy to understand why life feels so relaxed. In the kitchen, the air is filled with savory scents, as Yia Yia carefully layers minced beef, pasta and sauce made from fresh ingredients at the local market, for her beloved pastitsio.

This is like the scene of dreams, right? There’s something about the Mediterranean culture and way of life that draws us in, from sights and sounds to aromas and flavors. It reminds some of home, and for others, it’s a dream destination.

It’s no surprise, then, that in recent years Mediterranean-themed restaurants have gained popularity around Downtown and beyond. From Greek and Italian, to Spanish and Turkish flavors, there are nearly endless options to whet your appetite in Frederick.

Locals and tourists alike enjoy Ayse Meze and its menu that incorporates authentic Greek and Lebanon cuisine, made with fresh and local produce and meats. “It’s attractive food that’s simply prepared, affordable and served on small plates,” says co-owner Nezih Pistar. “It’s health-conscious food that tastes great.” Pistar also shares that his late mother was a big influence on Ayse’s development and success. “The name ‘Ayse’ is hers, and I wanted to create a niche restaurant that was ‘like Mom.’”

Frederick resident Beth Lowe is a frequent Ayse patron: “Not sure how regionally specific they are, but those brussels sprouts! I have a friend from New York state who gets multiple orders to go and takes them home with her every time she visits Frederick. I think she even eats them in the car sometimes. … They’re that good.” Pistar and his corporate chef Ric Ade agree the brussels sprouts (Bruksel lahanasi, as they’re listed on the menu) at Ayse are a customer favorite, hands down.

Not far from Ayse is the newest of Pistar’s Mediterranean spots, Pistarro’s on East Street. The restaurant’s name is a nod to the nickname Pistar had while playing soccer in Italy years ago. Using an authentic wood-fire pizza oven, handmade in Naples, they’re able to cook perfect Napoletana pizza in two minutes. The taste and texture is further improved by using tomatoes imported from San Marzano, Italy; fresh mozzarella made in-house daily; and unbleached Caputo flour as a key ingredient to their dough that’s then allowed to rise for 24 hours.

Lowe shares, “[Pistarro’s] opened around the time I returned from my first trip to Italy. Cinque Terre (where I visited) is the birthplace of pesto, and Trofi Al Pesto is a regional dish there… Pistarro’s version adds sundried tomatoes, but it’s lovely and reminiscent of the great dish I had in Cinque Terre.”

Pizza is, no doubt, the go-to selection for most diners at Pistarro’s, but Ade says the salumi (cured meats) and fromaggi (cheese) options on the menu are really popular. “It’s a favorite because we source quality ingredients,” he shares, “and we use the right tools from the native country to prepare the meats and cheeses for the plate.”

On Market Street, sits Isabella’s, Pistar’s third Mediterranean restaurant. Isabella’s has been a local hotspot for over a decade, dishing up the finest in authentic Spanish cuisine—including its beloved Esparragos Fritos con Alioli (asparagus “fries” and the smoked tomato aioli dipping sauce). Spain is one of Pistar’s favorite places to visit. “I’ve been there eight times! Spanish food holds a special place in my heart, and you’ll often find me dining at Isabella’s, too.”

Pistar, his partner Phil Bowers and Ade are focused on keeping up with future trends and staying a step ahead—focusing on well-balanced food that’s affordable and authentic, right down to having a dish’s name in its native language on the menu, instead of English.

Turkey Meets Germany

Timo Winkel, an industrial mechanic by trade, left Hamburg, Germany, to visit the woman who would become his wife while she was finishing her college degree in the United States in the early 2000s. While here, the couple noticed that it was impossible to find the street food they loved so much at home: döner. After intense brainstorm sessions together, Winkel and his wife, Nicole, drafted a business plan proposal and sent it off to the American Embassy in Germany, to get the blessing for a one-year visa to launch a döner food truck in the United States. Winkel remembers, “We got an invitation from the consulate in Frankfurt who said we had a great idea … one of the best. Like us, when he’s in the states, he missed döner, and couldn’t find it.”

Fast-forward a decade, and over on Carroll Creek sits Döner Bistro, a Mediterranean fusion restaurant that marries German and Turkish flavors and cooking techniques. Timo and his wife opened the Frederick location in spring 2013, after a successful run with their flagship spot in Leesburg, Va., which opened in 2008, and the food truck that got it all started in 2006.

Their idea for a menu was simple. Timo wanted to create an authentic döner kabob pocket sandwich, a nod to the popular street food that started in the ’70s in Germany. In addition , they planned to serve a variety of German beer—similar to the Turkish döner shops in Germany—and other German eats, too.  “This is one of the few places we can find the German beers we enjoy,” says Frederick resident, Amy Aguilar. The bonus is enjoying them in such a great environment. If you have traveled to Germany, this little corner bistro, nestled by Carroll Creek, will remind you of your favorite local spot.” The location is no coincidence; the Winkels picked a spot on the creek because it has a vibe like Hamburg, with the option for outdoor seating and lots of foot traffic.

The Winkels use traditional Turkish techniques to prepare the beef for their döner, including making their own meat cones by hand, because they don’t exist for wholesale purchase in the states. Each week, Nicole prepares the cones, weighing up to 75 pounds, using locally sourced beef and a blend of Turkish spices. The prepped meat cone slowly roasts at the restaurant all day, marinating in its own juices, and then is sliced to order. Timo notes, “The best thing is when Turkish people dine at the restaurant, and then say they like our food, that it tastes like home. It’s the biggest compliment, even better than a compliment from a German person.”

Return to Greece

In the same restaurant row on Carroll Creek sits Opa. Owners Sam and Pete Pantazopoulos opened its doors this past spring, offering an authentic Greek menu and dining experience. “People visit Opa for more than the delicious and authentic Greek cuisine,” says local blogger Tara Butler. “Opa embraces its name and truly makes your dining experience a celebration.” Opa’s staff aims to make their diners feel like family, allowing the time to enjoy their food, and willing to help diners who are new to Greek food select the perfect item from their menu full of traditional dishes.

Beyond the food, Opa’s menu also includes a wide variety of fun craft cocktails with Grecian monikers like “Demeter,” a cucumber yogurt gin gimlet, and “Dionysus,” a sangria made with red wine, Greek cinnamon liquor, raki and orange juice. Butler adds, “If you are a first time visitor, order this: one of their craft cocktails, the Opa Combination (gives you a little taste of everything), ­­­­and the Arni Stamna. You won’t be disappointed!”