“Ever heard of Mezze? We should check it out, it’s new,” my friend suggests one Tuesday afternoon.
First thoughts: Mezze? What’s Mezze? What does “mezze” even mean? Am I pronouncing it right?
Google, where you at. Mezze: “In the Mediterranean, an appetizer. Of Turkish and modern Greek origin.” So, small plates and Med. Music to my ears.
You know that more or less neglected part of West Gilman Street past the corner Stop & Shop? No? That’s probably because it’s home to some more or less neglected places of business and apartment buildings. Formerly Amy’s Café, Mezze took over the quaint restaurant space in early 2015.
And let me tell ya, it is in your best interest to not neglect this place.
Mezze is a cocktail bar off State Street that offers craft beer, fine wine, small plates and pizza influenced by Mediterranean flavors, but more characteristic of Eastern than Western, in my opinion. If that first sentence didn’t persuade you, maybe the fact that it proudly sources many of its ingredients locally will. Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking: seriously, another ethnic restaurant on State? But you are mistaken, my friend. This is not your stereotypical Mediterranean pasta/pizza/pita joint. From the outside looking in on a weeknight, the venue looks relatively upscale. The moment you walk in, though, this impression is toned down to a warm, subdued vibe. The guy serving from behind the bar greets us and says to sit wherever we want.
A photo posted by Sara (@sairraw) on May 23, 2015 at 9:23pm PDT
The restaurant is definitely on the smaller side – maybe around 50-60 people comfortably – and the dim lighting, wood tables and vintage wall mirrors make it feel even more intimate. We settled on a small table in the corner.
The first thing you’ll notice about Mezze is the ratio of its alcoholic to actual food options. Not complaining by any means. I mean, it is a cocktail bar, after all.
Our personable waiter tells us something unique about Mezze – for any cocktail, you can choose sweet, sour or strong, along with your booze of choice, and they’ll concoct it for around $6. No guesswork – just tell them how you want it, and they’ll try to accommodate you. My friend goes with the blind cocktail, choosing sweet and gin.
I, on the other hand, perused their great beer selection and did what I always do and asked the waiter what his preference is instead. In this case, I asked which beer he thought would go best with their falafel.
Now, I am not picky about beer in the least. I’ll enjoy a Heineken in one sitting, a local IPA in another, and then a Left-Hand Milk Stout the next. So there was essentially no way our waiter could fail me.
His first suggestion was the Lakefront IPA from Milwaukee, which comes in a pint glass. I wasn’t sure I wanted to fill up on that much beer, though. He then pointed out the Goose Island Great Road apple graf, a cider-Dunkelweiss blend that comes in a tulip glass. I went with it.
My friend throws back his lemon-drop-replica cocktail so he could try something else. Again, the waiter makes his own suggestion and brings out the Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca – a wild wheat ale from Michigan. Both his beer and mine were right on the money, especially when paired with our meals. Mezze’s inventive menu is composed of three categories of plates: cold, hot and pizza. The cold and hot plates are relatively small in size, so if you’re ravenous, definitely order more than one. The pizzas, on the other hand, err on the bigger side. It was suggested to get one small plate and one pizza in order to satisfy the two of us.
A photo posted by Wisconsin State Journal (@wistatejournal) on Nov 12, 2015 at 9:35am PST
You will immediately notice that you won’t be able to recognize a good fifty percent of the words on this menu. As a rule, don’t come to Mezze if you’re not willing to release the reigns and just trust the experience of experimentation. Even I, a self-proclaimed foodie, was surprised that I couldn’t deduce the meaning of words like “zaa’tar” or “taratour.” We ordered the falafel to start. If Banzo in Library Mall is your prototype for falafel, you can think of Mezze’s falafel as its less mainstream, more cultured, off-the-map cousin that “just doesn’t believe in social media.”
A photo posted by Mezze (@mezzemadison) on Apr 24, 2015 at 3:35pm PDT
With the first bite, I kid you not, you can distinguish each distinct flavor in the myriad of Middle-Eastern spices that goes into it creating these uniquely dense morsels. Earthy, warm and spicy in the sense of flavorful, the richly green falafel pairs perfectly with the side mixed greens, warm pita, and taratour which, as my buds discovered, resembles a tangy tahini sauce.
This small plate was just the right size to prep our stomachs for the main event.
Our Chorizo pizza measured a little more than a foot around. The chorizo, a spicy Spanish pork sausage for those who are unfamiliar, is accompanied on top by blistered cherry tomatoes, braised greens, fontina cheese, aleppo pepper and lime. These ingredients, composing an eclectic combination, could not have complemented each other better.
New stuff: @undergroundmeats Chorizo pizza with blistered cherry tomatoes and braised greens, @bellsbrewery Lager, and Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA. A photo posted by Mezze (@mezzemadison) on Jul 3, 2015 at 2:18pm PDT
Again, I know what you’re thinking: Pizza is pizza. And who doesn’t like pizza? All pizza is good. Is this really some kind of revelation?
Yes, yes it is. Why? Because once you have traveled to the true birthplace of pizza AKA Naples, Italy and have tasted what pizza is actually supposed to taste like, you automatically have the experiential authority to make judgments on all other pizzas you encounter in life.
Such as in my case. Or, well, I believe I have the authority to recommend this one to you, at the very least. So just go along with it.
Mezze’s pizza has a thin crust, but not so thin that it cracks all over your plate when you bite into it. It has some give to it, with a slightly thicker outer rim. The acidity from the blistered cherry tomatoes, heat from the pork sausage, spice and warmth of the aleppo pepper, creaminess of the fontina cheese, and mildness of the braised greens all come together to create an irresistible balance that fulfills all your taste needs.
You won’t be able to stop after only one slice.
Content but not overstuffed, my friend and I prolonged our meal with good conversation, of which the charming atmosphere is conducive to, and of course, more beer. We didn’t end up leaving up until around 10 pm, but even then people were still hanging around.
Moral of the story: if you’re around the State Street area and looking for a wallet-friendly adventure in the realm of food, Mezze is a sure winner. If nothing else, you’ll come out of it feeling a little more cultured with a belly full of ingredients you’d never heard of before.
OH and it’s pronounced (MAY-zuh). Now you can rave about it to your friends without sounding like a high school freshman during their first foreign language class.