Returning from school after breaks always proves challenging, and the struggles did not disappear when I started graduate school. After Spring Break, however, I did not suffer from the post-vacation blues as much as previous years. Teaching my favorite lesson on how group identities influence public opinion definitely allowed the spring part of the break to stay in my step. Additionally, my dad traveled to Durham from Dallas on a business trip, so I was able to dine with him during the first portion of the week. My dad’s side of the family is Greek, so the combination of his visit along with the theme from my class lectures motivated me to select Mediterranean Deli as our first dinner location. We could catch up and channel our Greek identity simultaneously, all while basking in the glory of our favorite type of food.
Conveniently located on Franklin Street, Mediterranean Deli (affectionately known as Med Deli to locals and students alike) has provided Chapel Hill with authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean staples. Med Deli also operates a catering business and bakery, so their food frequently appears at many functions throughout the Triangle. In fact, my first experience eating food from Med Deli was at the annual UNC Political Science Recruitment Weekend in the spring of 2013. I would be lying if I told you the delicious kabobs did not influence my decision to pursue my graduate studies at Carolina.
Med Deli has expanded since it opened in 1992, and the Franklin Street location usually houses a crowd of hungry diners. The hustle and bustle may prevent customers from enjoying a quiet, relaxing meal, but the casual atmosphere can also add a certain charm to the experience. I enjoy knowing that the entire UNC community takes full advantage of this local gem. While I wait for the employees to deliver the food to my table, I always stock up on the complimentary olives, sauces, and pickled vegetables at the condiment station located in the middle of the restaurant. I also recommend filling a container with olive oil and za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of dried herbs, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac. This combination perfectly complements the many varieties of pita bread that come with most meal options. I gave up gluten for Lent, so I have been eating Med Deli’s amazing gluten free pita for the past month.
When we visited Med Deli on Monday night, we spent several minutes browsing the various homemade side dishes in the deli cases at the front of the restaurant. The myriad choices fluctuate on a daily basis, and after four years, I cannot say I have ever tasted anything subpar from these cases. As an added bonus, many of the options are suitable for patrons with an array of dietary restrictions and preferences (dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.). You can choose a meal composed entirely of these sides, or you can select an entrée option that allows you to choose several sides to accompany your meal.
After spending the afternoon talking about identities, I was aware that my Greek identity was salient immediately after entering Med Deli. I could not help but think of the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Aunt Voula tells Ian that his decision to abstain from eating meat was not a problem at all, as he could eat lamb instead. Thus, I chose the lamb kabobs ($13.50) to comply with the Aunt Voula-approved Meatless Monday guidelines. My dad ordered beef tenderloin kabobs ($10.99), and both of these plates were wonderful. Cooked to our respective temperature preferences, our kabobs sat atop a huge serving of jasmine rice with slivered almonds. I chose the roasted cauliflower and grilled pineapple salad for my two sides, while my dad ordered cilantro hummus and grilled cauliflower to accompany his meal. The cauliflower is one of my staple sides, so I highly recommend ordering it if you feel overwhelmed and cannot decide between the many available choices.
My dad definitely understood the hype surrounding this restaurant, so we returned two nights later. I ordered the grilled salmon ($12.99) with roasted cauliflower, roasted eggplants, and roasted potato and spinach salad in place of the standard jasmine rice. I plan to incorporate this salmon into my list of staples. This entrée was even more impressive than the kabob platter, as the giant piece of fish was grilled to perfection and could not be more delicious. My dad ordered the four-side item sampler ($9.75—an upcharge for premium sides) that included a stuffed pepper, spanakopita, roasted beet salad, and a stuffed cabbage roll. While I was excited to once again have leftovers, I was sad to say goodbye to my dad after several nights of wonderful dinners. I know I will return to Med Deli in the near future, and I will not hesitate to think of the nice chats with my dad and appreciate my Greek identity.
Amy Sentementes is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill, where she studies political psychology and public opinion. She has managed to cope with the stress of graduate school by developing a love of cooking and “procrastibaking” for her friends and students. Additionally, Amy enjoys visiting local restaurants and breweries, and she hopes her research regarding group identities and stereotypes can help her evaluate cuisines from a unique perspective. A native Texan, she also loves visiting friends and family in the Lone Star State and cheering on her TCU Horned Frogs and Dallas Cowboys. You can follow her on Instagram @gradschoolfoodie.