First Look: Meze Grill Really is the Middle Eastern Chipotle
When yesterday’s post about the newly opened Meze Grill (on 8th btw. 55+56th) described it as a “Middle Eastern Chipotle” some commenters were quick to point that most authentic falafel and shawarma stands (here and abroad) operate in much the same way a Chipotle does. That is, “you pick Pita or Laffa, choose protein, and pick out of an array of salads and sauces. This is a formula that has existed since the days of wandering in the desert. If anything, Chipotle is a Mexican Meze Grill.”
Right. Except for one thing. Meze Grill goes a little beyond just the “pick your fillings” on a buffet line formula. The metaphor extends not just to the way the place operates, and looks… but also to its core essence. I checked Meze Grill out yesterday, and I think once you do too, you’ll come to the same conclusion: Meze Grill is the Middle Eastern Chipotle.
Yes, at Kosher Deluxe, Pick a Pita, Bread & Olive and Olympic Pita you pick out your bread, your protein, your salads and sauces… but do any of those places look like this?
And notice the menu above the counter. Organized to look (and feel) exactly like a Chipotle. Its also meant to operate like a Chipotle. In the back, you can see two delicious spits full of meat rotating away (one chicken, and one steak). But this place is meant operate like a fast food joint, so the meat is pre-cut and put into the steam tables at the front (just like Chipotle.)
Here’s what we tried:
But how did it taste? Well, I don’t think it’s right to say bad things about a place the first week it’s open. Especially because they are, by their own admission, still working out the kinks. In fact the chef, who has experience working in another modern Middle Eastern chain restaurant, came around to all the tables asking for feedback- and genuinely seemed like he was asking so that he could make improvements (not just receive meaningless praise.)
But I will say this, Meze Grill is 100% the Middle Eastern Chipotle. And no matter what improvements they make to the taste, or the price, that is not going to change one bit. From the way they serve the meat to the way they’ve converted standard Mediterranean sauces into dressings with names like “hummus lime” or “whipped feta” . If you love Chipotle (as a concept, and lunch option) you will probably find things to like about Meze Grill. If Chipotle leaves you with an angry longing for real and authentically tasty Mexican food- Meze Grill will most certainly have the same effect.
The only difference I can see is that Midtown is home to some of the best falafel and shawarma joints you’ll find in the states. Which leaves me to wonder why Meze Grill’s owners chose New York as the place to plant their first flag. There are plenty of other cities who would be far more excited to have a place like this (“where authentic Mediterranean food meets modern flavor”.) Even LA might have been a better first stop…
On the other hand, we are a pretty picky bunch- and there is no question this franchise has larger aspirations than a single store on 8th Ave. I guess if they are looking to use this first location as the place to get feedback and hone their concept (and food), you’re not going to find a group more willing to offer their “constructive criticism” than Midtown Lunchers!
So the question is, do you want to be their guinea pig?
Meze Grill, 934 8th Ave. (btw. 55+56th), 212-969-9782