› Where: UPD Mediterranean Cuisine, 430 Vine St.
› Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
› Price range: $2.75 (cheesecake slice) to $15.95 (16-inch pizza).
› Phone: 423-756-8700.
› Alcohol: No.
The first falafel I had was on a summer study in London. I eat street food following only one rule: The shoddier the booth looks, the better it must be. This rule led me to some of the best pita and falafel in Camden Lock, with pickled veggies and sweet dill sauce.
UPD Mediterranean Cuisine, formerly University Pizza & Deli in the Vine Street neighborhood of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus, took me back to that stand in the London borough of Camden Town.
UPD Mediterranean Cuisine reopened on the ground floor of The Edge building, corner of Vine and Houston streets, in early February. It comfortably seats around 50 people, and has a calm, casual vibe with framed art of Jerusalem covering most of the free wall space.
The booths and tables are finished in Mocs blue and gold. Extra tables ring the exterior corner of the building for those wanting to dine al fresco and take in the warmer weather.
The space is smaller than the former restaurant, with a kitchen almost half the size. Yet the menu doesn't let on, boasting halal meats and savory dishes ($6-8.99) to classic pizzas ($3.49-$15.95) and calzones ($11.49). Owner Akram Musa hired two chefs with this reboot, who have 40 years of cooking between them.
Before going, I did my research, combing through the Dinner Delivered page and researching dishes I didn't recognize.
I settled on the Palestinian Plate ($9.99), one of three vegetarian plates. It includes hummus, tabouli, babaganoush, falafel and pita bread. The babaganoush is an eggplant version of hummus, mixed with tahina, olive oil and various seasonings. Tabouli combines tomatoes, chopped parsley, mint and bulgur, seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. The falafel is a hush puppy of ground chickpeas and/or fava beans.
All the essentials when dining in a Mediterranean eatery.
My date, who isn't the most adventurous eater by her own admission, looked at the menu with slight intimidation. She eventually settled on the mushroom and hummus plate ($6.99), and I ordered a side of falafel ($3.49) for her to try.
Our dishes came out within 10 minutes. Looking around at the other patrons, the wait time for pizzas and other oven fare was about the same.
We could have comfortably split my plate with the side and both left satisfied. Instead, we gorged ourselves slightly while ESPN played in the background. We left miserably full but still satisfied, with to-go boxes to enjoy the next day. And to her delight, she enjoyed both her food and samples of mine — when I could part with the tabouli.
The prices and freshness make it likely that I will dine there again. Plus, I found whatever I didn't eat kept well enough for a midnight snack.
I recommend dining in rather than ordering out, if only because the space gives context for the food instead of feeling like another ethnic option in my 'to-go' tab on my browser.
Contact Cameron Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6509.