The Columbia Place Shopping Center, near the intersection of Washington and Columbia Roads, is on the way to church – so we’d often wondered about Best Bites, a tucked away restaurant with a simple red and white sign.
The signage didn’t always give much of a clue on what Best Bites is all about – but they recently changed it to make it clear that they offer Mediterranean cuisine. So after an afternoon trip to the Evans Farmers Market in Evans Town Center, we stopped by for an early dinner.
On this Thursday evening, the restaurant was quiet, with only a few patrons, and we had our pick of the roughly seven booths and 11 tables. There’s also a long bar spanning the back. The restaurant itself was dark despite the bank of windows, and decorated in rich golds (even a gold ceiling), reds and dark brown paneling.
We chose a window seat, and our friendly hostess brought us menus, stopping to chat with the other tables and ask how their food was on her way back to the front.
In keeping with the style of food, the menu was robust, serving Turkish, Greek and Italian cuisine: It featured salads, such as a Greek salad with grape leaves; cold and hot appetizers, ranging from pastry rolls stuffed with feta and parsley to chicken tenders (for the kids and the less adventurous); entrée platters; sandwiches and wraps, including gyros, burgers, subs and calzones; even pasta and pizzas.
I was starving so I went straight for the entrees. I was torn between the kofte (Turkish-style meatballs with saffron rice and vegetables) and the specials on the board near the front, which included spicy lamb stew, chicken curry and moussaka. Our nice hostess said apologetically that the moussaka was out, but that the curry was probably the most popular dish.
Curry doesn’t speak Mediterranean to me and I wasn’t in the mood for a lot of spice, so I decided to go for the kofte – angling out my husband, Sean, who was planning to try it. Instead, he went with his second choice, the Mediterranean gyro platter.
I didn’t realize our meals came with salads, but they came swiftly – deep green romaine topped with pale chopped tomatoes, crumbled feta and olives, with an herby Italian dressing.
They were pretty salads and Sean loved his, but it was just ho-hum for me. The vegetables were just a little too warm, the green romaine dense and almost kale-like in texture, and despite the many herbs in the dressing, I tasted more oil and not so much flavor. I yearned for just a little more acid in the dressing and more tang in the cheese.
Our entrees came next. Both platters looked similar – with the meats, a dish of tzatziki sauce, pita and a slice of grilled tomato and green bell pepper atop a tangle of herb-dressed purple onions (mine also had a prettily shaped pile of yellow rice). But it was a surprise nonetheless – we hadn’t read the menu description thoroughly, and we’d assumed Sean’s would be the typical gyro wrap, not beautiful curls of meat.
I liked my meatballs – they were chargrilled, and the spices in the meat gave them an extra earthiness that was tempered by the yogurt and herb tzatziki and the grilled vegetables, which had a sweetness to them. The tzatziki made everything better, including the saffron rice, which didn’t have much of a saffron flavor. But we both thought that Sean’s gyro was the star, as it should be in any Mediterranean restaurant worth its salt.
The meat was both tender and crisp on the edges, thinly sliced but still moist, and tasted rich without being fatty or greasy. In Sean’s words, “This is the best gyro I’ve ever had,” and I had to agree.
When our server came by, we mentioned our surprise and delight, and he explained that the meat is slowly grilled on a rotating skewer, pointing to an illustration on the menu to help explain. After he left, Sean whispered, “I could eat this every day.”
I’m not much of a fortune teller. Still, I can promise that we will not be installing a rotating meat skewer in our kitchen anytime soon. But what I do see is another visit to Best Bites – and their delicious gyro – in our near future.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Best Bites, 4017 Columbia Road, Martinez
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
SECOND HELPING: (706) 364-8000, www.bestbitesaugusta.com