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Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

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I want to begin this review by admitting that I do not eat Mediterranean food often. I cannot speak about this restaurant’s authenticity or how it compares with other Mediterranean restaurants in the area. I can say, however, that as someone who is not a huge fan of Mediterranean food, I really enjoyed my meal at Taziki’s.

Taziki’s is a chain restaurant with locations around the South including locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The Tuscaloosa Taziki’s is located in Midtown Village which can be very convenient if you plan on shopping after eating (or vice versa). However, this location can pose problems if you are trying to find parking on the weekends (particularly Saturday around noon when I went for lunch). Upon entering, you see that the restaurant itself is pretty standard. It is very roomy with many tables and a few booths. There are also a few outdoor tables available. I was there on a busy Saturday at lunchtime and there were still many empty tables. If eating in, it’s an order-at-the-counter-and-take-a-number system. Someone brings your food, but you do not have a waitress. Instead, the staff is free to move around constantly throughout the restaurant and are regularly cleaning and checking on diners. If you don’t feel like dining in, they also offer larger “Dinner for Four” to-go meals after 2:00 p.m. including meals like a whole baked chicken and roasted pork loin.

The menu has a lot to offer including starters, soups/salads, desserts, beer and wine, gyros, deli choices, and Taziki’s “Feasts,” which feature various meat and fish options. They also have daily specials Monday-Friday ranging from pasta to roll-ups. In fact, I look forward to going back on a Monday for the Portobello mushroom sandwich (which Natalie loves along with the Friday Pasta). On my recent visit, I ordered the Village Veggie Gyro, which features tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, garden slaw, feta, and Greek dressing in a pita wrap. I opted for no Greek dressing and chose pasta salad as my side out of their many options which include fresh-cut fruit, tomato-cucumber salad, and jasmine rice. The gyro was fresh and the vegetables inside were crispy and flavorful. The vegetables were complimented and easy to taste in contrast with the surrounding pita bread. The pasta salad is some of the best I have had at the few restaurants around town that offer pasta salad. It has a tangy taste and the crumbled feta cheese adds extra tartness to counteract the olive oil. Also, the olive oil/vinegar combination, which can sometimes go awry in pasta salad, succeeds here with a good balance of the two.

Prices at Taziki’s are reasonable; for almost seven dollars I was given a large gyro, a plentiful helping of pasta salad, and a small side of chips. While Taziki’s may not be my favorite place to eat in Tuscaloosa (then again Mediterranean food is not my favorite), it is a good place to go if you want good food quickly. It is also a good place to go if you are looking for healthy alternatives to the typical Tuscaloosa fare of ribs and burgers. It is certainly worth checking out.

[Amanda Stevens]

Taziki’s is located at 1800 McFarland Blvd East #300 toward the back of the Midtown Village Shopping Center.

Monday-Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: 11am-8pm

Chloe’s Cup Coffee and Teas

As you hear the bell clang over the heavy wooden door, citrus walls and homemade hula hoops silently greet you. A chenille throw is draped over a retro couch. Local art work lining the walls ranges from cow-themed paintings to tornado photography. Delicate jewelry made by local artisans gleams from the shelves. There is a mantel, but no fireplace. The smell of organic coffee is brewing. Soothing music emanates from a Pandora radio station. The chalkboard behind the counter will inform you of the daily selections.

And then you see Gail—a beautifully southern woman with teased mahogany hair who is always dressed to the nines. You can’t miss her. Gail Faulkner opened Chloe’s Cup in May 2010. She is a spunky woman who started a private business with two looming competitors: the economy and Starbucks. Gail has a simplistically profound mantra: “Stick with it, hang in there, and pray!”

Chloe’s Cup (named after Gail’s granddaughter) is setting itself apart from the city’s other coffee shops with the little things. Feel the ivory mug in your hands instead of an impersonal piece of plastic. If you are ordering to-go, there is no need to stand around awkwardly pretending to be interested in your phone. Just sit down and pull a magazine out of the spacious basket by the condiments. If you come in on Tuesday nights, you can snap your fingers while the Voodoo Saints play eclectic New Orleans blues. Employees quickly know you by name, and there is a low turnover rate, which is miraculous in a college town.

There is an innate sense of camaraderie at this downtown Tuscaloosa coffee shop.  UA English teacher (and future DCE reviewer, he claims) Austin Whitver, told me why he continually returns: “There’s really good coffee here. Gail is really nice, and I like the people that work here.” Whitver went on to explain the overall atmosphere and the key ingredient of his attraction to Chloe’s Cup: “The crowd here is usually–even when there are large numbers of people–civil and quiet. Starbucks is often more loud. And the idea of “local” is the most important thing…it’s something that I don’t think a lot of students think about very often: the importance of supporting local business.” He also appreciates the fact that Chloe’s Cup offers a 10% discount to UA students and faculty.

And as for the menu? My advice is this: take advantage of the specialty lattes. They make a mean raspberry white mocha and an amaretto (vanilla, almond, espresso and milk) that’s to die for. If you don’t like coffee, they offer real fruit smoothies, bubble tea (green tea, half and half, flavored powder and tapioca pearls), plus an assortment of hot chocolate flavors and teas. They also have an extensive list of sugar free lattes, great for all you health nuts who prefer aspartame to genuine cane sugar (I do not judge for I am one of these insanely illogical individuals). And there are desserts galore. My personal favorite is the sweet potato biscuit. Even if you avoid this vegetable at Thanksgiving, you’ll fall in love with the buttery confection dusted with powdered heaven. Chloe’s Cup also has fantastic chicken salad and black bean soup, but all the “real food” items are overpriced for the rather pathetic amount you receive (the fruit cup ratio consists of four grapes to one strawberry.) So, I recommend sticking to the fabulous coffee and treats.

Chloe’s Cup is a local business worth supporting. Go there. Eat the food. Drink the drink. Most of all, meet the people. Savor a refreshing variation from the monotonous chains that bombard Tuscaloosa. You don’t want to miss out on such a unique opportunity.

[amanda shields]

Chloe’s Cup is located in downtown Tuscaloosa at 2117 University Boulevard in the brick strip mall with Moe’s BBQ.

Monday-Friday: 7am-10pm
Saturday: 9am-8pm
Sunday: 2pm-10pm

Mugshots Grill and Bar

Mugshots is my favorite burger place in Tuscaloosa.  It is located downtown and is a good place to go for lunch if you are looking for somewhere close to campus that is not on the Strip.  It is also a good place to go before catching a show at the Bama Theatre or a wine tasting at Carpe Vino.  Note that if you visit Mugshots at a “peak” hour (lunch or dinner) or during a home football game weekend, you will likely have to wait a little while for a seat.  As the crowd might indicate, however, it is worth the wait.

When you first walk into Mugshots, you will note the “sports bar” like atmosphere with jersey’s and, because we are in Tuscaloosa, all things Crimson Tide on the walls.  You will see ESPN on televisions scattered throughout the restaurant, which is located in an old building that still houses much of its original character (like the brick walls, which hold not only sports memorabilia but also the “mugshots” of customers sent in from around the country and the world).

Mugshots is the home of the burger, serving up everything from the standard to the gourmet (peanut butter burger anyone?) including the three patty, six bacon strip, behemoth: the Mugshot (eat your meal, including beer battered fries, an onion ring, and a hand-battered pickle, in 12 minutes or less and it’s free!).  If burgers aren’t your thing, there is still plenty for you to eat: from sandwiches, to pastas, to Mugshot specialties like grilled Ahi Tuna, and much more.

I make a visit to Mugshots every time I have visitors from out of town, and it is yet to disappoint them.  Being a vegetarian, my natural burger choice is Brady’s Black Bean Burger.  I should note that I did not ask if the black bean burger can be substituted for the beef patty in their other burgers, but I don’t see why this would be a problem.  The black bean burger, like all Mugshot’s burgers, is huge.  Add to it a very large “side” of beer-battered fries or onion rings (it’s hard to choose) and you’ve got a very filling meal.  I can never finish the whole plate and on this trip, my dining companion, who ordered the Katie’s Kickin’ Chicken Basket appetizer, couldn’t finish theirs either. My advice if you plan on eating at Mugshots: come hungry or plan to take food home.

The black bean burger itself is handmade and better (and thicker) than most black bean burgers I’ve had before.  It is certainly better than any of the frozen brands available.  The burger sits on a large sourdough bun, which is a good thing because these patties are hard to contain.  The black bean burger includes a combination of items that at first seem odd, but the red onions and mayo create an interesting blend with the mildness of the burger.  Add pickle, tomato, lettuce, sautéed mushrooms and Swiss and cheddar cheeses, and you get a burger in which every bite is filled with different flavor combinations—none of which are disappointing.

Mugshots has so many interesting selections, you should never be disappointed.  The staff is always kind but, if they’re busy, you might have to wait longer than usual and it is sometimes a good idea to remind your waiter or waitress that you’re still there.  Prices are good, especially considering the large portions you receive.  Mugshots has other locations (though it remains exclusive to AL, MS, and LA), of course, but if you’re in Tuscaloosa, you have to try it.  Especially that peanut butter burger…

[amanda stevens]

Mugshot’s is located at 511 Greensboro Ave, just south University and across from Chuck’s Fish.

Monday-Saturday: 11am-2am
Sunday: 11am-12am

Manna Grocery

In a town like Tuscaloosa, home to pulled pork and wings, being a vegetarian can be hard.  The answer, my fellow herbivores (and omnivores), is Manna Grocery and Deli.  Manna is separated into two sections: the grocery section located at the front of the store and the deli/restaurant section near the back of the store and is a fabulous spot to eat whether you are grabbing lunch for the afternoon or for the next week.

The grocery section, while not large, is adequately stocked with products you can’t find in most other stores around Tuscaloosa.  While Manna is slightly pricier than say Target or Publix on products you can get around town (primarily Morningstar and Boca products), it is only a dollar or so difference and you are supporting a local business rather than a chain store (not to mention the selection of vegan/vegetarian/organic options is much larger).  Also, Manna offers more than just organic food, sporting organic beauty products, supplements, and some other miscellaneous items like jewelry and candles.

If you venture out of the grocery section, you will find the small deli in the back.  The deli section offers cheeses, cold vegetarian and vegan snacks, limited fresh produce (you should note that this is all the fresh produce that is offered), and to-go wraps, sandwiches and burritos.  If you aren’t in the mood for cold selections, however, you can order something hot from the restaurant area.

The restaurant area is right next to the deli and offers four types of vegetarian pizza and all vegetarian burgers. But fear not, my meat-loving friends, there’s plenty for you too (and it’s healthier than anything you can get from a crinkly paper bag)!  Manna offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian paninis, sandwiches, burritos, and salad and soup plates, as well as daily specials, which vary from day to day (you can find them on their website). The restaurant, like the store, isn’t large, but there is ample room.  I ate there at around 11:30 a.m. and though it was busy, there were still tables available.

For lunch, I chose the veggie and goat cheese panini.  I should note that I’d never had goat cheese before and subsequently discovered that I am not a fan, but the panini was still very flavorful.  The portabella mushroom added a tangy taste that mixed well with the other veggies and ingredients.  The bread was well toasted and really added to the flavor.  The panini was also very filling but if you’re still hungry you get your choice of chips to go with it—not to mention you can add dessert to your meal. Chocolate or mint chocolate pie, anyone?

The staff there is also very helpful.  Anytime I’ve been in the grocery section I’ve received assistance and found the same to be true when ordering food.  With great food and a helpful staff, Manna is a nice place to visit if you’re looking for a quick meal between classes.  As a vegetarian I feel lucky to have a place like Manna that offers alternatives to the limited selection of vegetarian foods found in larger stores around town.  It’s a good place to go if you’re a vegetarian looking for variety or if you’re just looking for healthier alternatives to Tuscaloosa’s usual fare.

[amanda stevens]

Manna Grocery is located at 2300 McFarland Blvd East across from Snow Hinton Park.

Manna’s store hours are Monday-Saturday 9am-7pm.
Their deli/restaurant/lunch hours are from 11am-2:3opm Monday-Friday and 11am-2pm on Saturdays.