Turnips and tomato complete Mediterranean staple

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by Eric Ginsburg

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten pita bread this good — if I have, my trip to Mooney’s Mediterranean Café clouded out the memories.

The closest competitor that comes to mind is a dive in Burlington, Vt., but something about this bread that I can’t quite figure out still puts it a few steps ahead. The thing is, the shawarma wrap at Mooney’s is unusual enough that I didn’t even notice the pita right away. Instead, the flavors inside the staple menu item commanded my attention.

The sweetness of the tinfoil-wrapped meal jumped out immediately, not overpowering but noticeably different from the other shawarma wraps I’ve consumed. Part of it was likely the interplay of larger tomato slices than I’m used to and a “tangy lemon-sesame dressing,” but the most unique element to the order is the addition of pickled turnips. 

The purple vegetable makes for a genius pairing. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention — or, like the pita, its execution scrubbed my memory — but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else doing it. The beef just closed the deal.

I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t like pickles, hates them really, but practically half the shawarma rested in my stomach before I remembered that the wrap came with any. I pulled open the bundle to double check — yep, several visible pickle strips — but they added such subtle tinges to the flavor that I hadn’t noticed.

For the uninitiated, it’s advised to grip the wrap and tilt it forward while pinching it, letting excess juices seep out of the mouth of the meal to avoid making a mess. Despite abiding by the rule of thumb, I still managed to dump a splash that remained in the tinfoil at the bottom directly onto my notebook.

Another pro tip: Sit outside. The view is less than scenic, with several empty storefronts directly across the street and a construction site adjacent, but the season, people watching and relative calm make it worthwhile.

Almost before I could get comfortable in my chair, my food was ready and thrust in front me. Unbelievably fast, in fact, even considering that my order hit the kitchen before I finished paying. The speed suggests that Mooney’s has figured out that the way to make it in downtown Winston-Salem, at the corner of Liberty and Fourth streets, is to be able to churn out quality food quickly enough for the lunch crowd, who must count minutes until they return to the office.

They’ve clearly figured out several other things, too: There’s a spread of craft beers including several Mother Earth brews, a to-go menu with a grilled-cheese pita, and a glut of healthy and vegetarian options. Any time a personal trainer orders in front of you, it’s basically a small endorsement that you’re doing something right.

There are treats, too, the most enticing of which is a baklava gelato made specifically for Mooney’s at Café Gelato. Intriguing as it may be, I concluded my lunch more inclined to order shawarma round two than anything else.