Nestled a few doors off the slope of the Gilbert Avenue hill on Nassau Street, the Aegean blue frame house with a red roof gives only a slight indication of what you'll find within. In fact, aside from the color, it would be easy to pass by Andy's without realizing a restaurant is there, right across from the Baptist church.
For many in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, Andy's Mediterranean Grille and International Market has established itself as an exotic asset. Brothers "Big" Andy and Majed Hajjar opened Andy's Deli a few years ago, offering fresh salads, sandwiches and Lebanese delicacies, canned and packaged goods. Tables were added, and now they are in the process of adding a bar to "surprise the customers."
It's obvious a renovation is underway. The temporary scaffolding in the main room was parked opposite a wall rack of interesting wines and exotic grocery selections ranging from seeds, nuts and dried fruits to feta cheese and frozen quail. In spite of the evident construction, Andy's is bright and open, highlighted with a few framed posters of Lebanon, pink Formica tabletops and mauve seats in the bentwood chairs.
As I was led to the rear loft, I noted that most of the tables were taken with a mix of students, workers and a family trying to have adult conversation with an energetic youngster. A concrete deck is evident on one side of the building with tables and chairs, ready for a warm spring day.
On this overcast and chilly day, I needed to sample the Lentil Soup ($3.49). Lemon juice was swirled into the thick chowder, chunky with potatoes and dusted with chopped parsley. It was steaming hot, and I enjoyed the tart citrus hint with the peppered heartiness of the soup.
I took Andy up on his suggestion of the Shawarma Pita Wrap ($4.99). It also comes as a salad ($5.99) or as an entrée with rice ($6.99 and $8.99). As a wrap, the pita pocket is sliced open lengthwise by the brothers and layered with tahini, dill pickle slices, parsley, garlic, tomato slices and sautéed marinated chicken. The "top" of the pita is flipped over the stuffing and then rolled, wrapped in foil like a small torpedo and presented in a basket with a package of chips. I would order this again, but only after sampling the shish kabobs disappearing from the workman's table.
The silky, creamy Baba Ghannouj ($3.49) had a piquant undercurrent to the smoky roasted eggplant mixture, while the pale yellow Hummus with Tahini ($3.49) had a slight lemon tang with a garlic bite that would best be shared with those you would want to spend the next few hours with. I found the Tabouli ($4.49) surprising: It consisted solely of parsley, onions and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and lemon juice with none of the traditional bulgur. It was very fresh, green and savory, but no grains. The hand-tossed Greek Salad ($5.99) had torn romaine, large chunks of feta, slivers of green pepper, onion slices, cucumber slices, niçoise olives and chopped parsley and vinaigrette with the familiar lemon zing.
Study international flags before you go and identify the five flags pictured on the blackboard. You could win a free lunch and, as the board puts it, "It helps to be globally aware."
Go: 906 Nassau St., Walnut Hills
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sunday
Prices: Inexpensive to reasonable
Payment: Cash and major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken kabobs, turkey and chicken dishes, as well as spinach pie, grape leaves, taboul, salads and falafel
Other: Eat-in, carryout and food and wine market