Mediterranean Cruise Cafe (Eagan, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • November 26, 2003

Middle Eastern cuisine is at its best when you try a little bit of everything. And there’s no better introduction to the foods and flavors of Middle Eastern hospitality than the mazza table, a sort of Arab smorgasbord of lots of little dishes, where everyone helps themselves.

The Mediterranean Cruise Cafe makes this easy. The menu is a one-stop shop for all sorts of eastern Mediterranean cuisines, from Greek gyros to Lebanese kibbe to Moroccan couscous. It’s easy to devise your own mazza table with the dishes that sound tastiest.

All the staples of Middle Eastern cooking are competently done. The tabouli salad is bright with lemon juice and mint, and the tomatoes and cucumbers are fresh. The hummus is so good we spoon it onto everything except the foods we dip into it. The falafel tastes great, though we don’t usually cook it in such hot oil; it was browner than we prefer. The baba ghanouj (eggplant dip with garlic) has a wonderful roasted flavor.

Gyros is the roasted ground lamb on a rotating spit that’s carved into slices for sandwiches. That rotating spit gives the dish its name, in fact; it has the same root as gyroscope. Here, the gyros meat has a nice, nearly crispy edge to every slice. The meat is cooked to that perfect stage where it’s not too soft and not too dry. Not every gyros place does this so well. You can get gyros in the various shawirma dishes, too, if you don’t like it in a pita.

We found the chicken kabobs a little dry and the beef kabobs too tough, and the grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef were served in a bland tomato lemon sauce. But we did find an entree worth the trip. This was the Chicken Casablanca Best. Huge pieces of chicken, easily three or four bites big, sauteed in a deceptively simple combination of mushrooms, onions and garlic. The seasoning makes this a little sweet and a little spicy; it’s wonderful. There’s also a version with shrimp.

We really liked the fried vegetables, especially considering that deep-fried cauliflower and mushrooms are not generally a dish worth writing home about. Here, we recommend it.

Given the various menu items labeled “combo,” “feast,” and “platter,” you can easily put together a whole spread of dishes, so bring a group. This kind of dining is a festive, social meal.

There are many other things on the menu: salads big enough for a meal, steaks and burgers for those who prefer to avoid Mediterranean flavors, seafood entrees and several vegetarian combos and platters.

Desserts are good, though not homemade. We like Middle Eastern desserts; with flaky phyllo dough and nuts and honey it’s hard to go wrong. The borma is a nice change from the usual baklava. It is a pastry made from shredded wheat, pistachios and honey.

The Mediterranean Cruise Cafe has belly dancing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and at lunchtime on the last Friday of the month.

Show times are Thursday at 7 and 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Call ahead to confirm these times.

You don’t want to miss the belly dancing if you’re interested in the fun show, and you don’t want to catch the belly dancing if you’re looking for quiet conversation.

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.