Hummus, chicken shawarma, gyros and falafel aren’t exactly rarities in Baton Rouge.
Judging by the dozens of Lebanese and Greek restaurants that thrive across the region, south Louisiana diners obviously have a taste for Mediterranean food.
The Simple Greek, a national restaurant chain, moved in on their turf this summer after opening a location across from Tiger Stadium in a new residential and retail development for LSU students.
Another national Mediterranean chain with more subtly seasoned food, Zoe’s, has made it in the area, while another — The Halal Guys — never found its audience. The Simple Greek already appears to have developed a lunchtime following.
The Simple Greek focuses on healthful pita wraps or bowls built around chicken, gyros, shrimp or falafel. But the menu also features appetizing soups, salads and sides of hand-cut fries, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie and other dishes.
During a solo lunch this month, I tried The Simple Greek for the first time.
I had been apprehensive to visit on a lunch break with the university in session, but I easily found a parking spot and took a short walk through the attractive new urbanism-inspired development with student housing mixed with retail and grocery stores.
Inside the quick-service restaurant, I stood in a short, fast-moving line and observed the interior design, a modern look using soothing faux gray woods and industrial light fixtures. One wall read, "Discover your inner Greek."
Moving through the build-your-own line, I chose the chicken shawarma on a white pita ($7.95) and selected from an array of toppings, filling the wrap with feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and tzatziki sauce. After growing used to the bold spice of our local Lebanese, I expected a more subdued flavor from a national chain. Still, the chicken tasted much blander than I anticipated. Without the fresh toppings and soft pita, I may have tossed it after a few bites.
My side dish saved the meal. The Greek fries ($3.45) came covered with feta, oregano, garlic salt and vinegar. French fries from chain restaurants usually get dumped out of a bag from the freezer, but these appeared fresh and handcut, arriving in a neat cardboard takeout box. A smattering of pungent feta and vinegar and the satisfying garlic salt combined for an addictive treat.
A few days later, I returned with a work friend. This time, I tried a bowl ($9.95), beginning with a base of brown rice and adding cucumbers, tomatoes and olives. For my protein, I tried the gyros in hopes the meat would have more flavor than the chicken. On the side of the bowl, I added the garlic green beans.
The gyros met my expectations, and the green beans exceeded them, with a fresh crunch and just enough salted garlic flavoring.
My guest chose a chicken shawarma wrap ($7.95). She also found the chicken bland and instead folded open the pita to eat the vegetables. However, she loved the spinach pie ($3.95) she added to the side. Its crisp, flaky exterior hid a creamy layer of spinach inside. In my notes, I wrote it was “decadent.”
I also munched on a side of falafel ($3.95), which came in small, crisp nuggets fried to near perfection.
We shared an order of hummus and soft pita ($2.95). The hummus came a bit on the chunky side compared to the local style. It was excellent. Oil pooled on top, and the garlic and citrus juice balanced well.
The Simple Greek will satisfy those looking for a quick, quality lunch close to campus, and it’s worth a trip for anyone looking for another take on the Mediterranean cuisine so many south Louisianians clearly love.
The Simple Greek
3624 Nicholson Drive
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
(225) 256-2859; thesimplegreek.com
Pros: Sides, competitive prices for lunch
Cons: Bland chicken shawarma