hidden gems-mandaloun

by erin thursby
The Baymeadows area is a honeycomb of restaurants unexpectedly tucked away in shopping plazas. One such gem is Mandaloun (9862 Old Baymeadows Rd., 646-1881), which serves mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern with the barest touch of Indian tossed in. It isn’t a fusion of these countries, but there are items from each on the menu. Mostly it’s Lebanese and Middle Eastern.
I expected it to be the typical Baymeadows place on the weekends, namely, not all that busy. Many places out that way depend on the work crowd coming in for lunch or just after work. But Mandaloun is a hive of activity on weekends. It was unexpectedly loud, with a mix of club-type dance music and Middle Eastern sound. Mid-evening we had a belly-dancer visit the table. We got a table outside because there were none to be had inside, mainly because of a massive birthday party. Despite that, we were never abandoned or forgotten by the waitstaff and it was comfortable.
You can enjoy a full meal or just order hummus and pita while you drink. The baba ganoush comes highly recommended. Vegetarian items are marked on the menu, one of which was the stuffed grape leaves. If you’re a devotee of the Casbah’s meat filled grape leaves, you might not favor these, but I liked them more rather than less! The lentil soup is also supposed to be excellent, though we didn’t get to try it this time around.
While we enjoyed our combo kabobs (each meat had its own distinct, savory flavor), the star of the evening had to be the dessert, hands down the best baklava either of us had ever tasted, let alone here in Jacksonville. That dessert and their outstanding service are just two of the reasons to come back to this hidden gem.