Serop’s Cafe perfects Mediterranean flavor

When you think of south Louisiana cuisine, you think of seafood. When driving around Baton Rouge, however, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d taken a wrong turn and ended up on the coast.

Not the Gulf Coast. The Mediterranean coast.

Not that this would be a bad thing. There is a reason that Greek/Lebanese/Mediterranean — pick your title — restaurants have flourished here. Food this flavorful is going to find an audience.

At different locations, Serop’s Cafe has been one of the area’s longtime shawarma depots, including the Perkins Road café across from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. This cozy café has an airy atmosphere and a friendly, attentive wait staff.

At a midweek, midday visit, we stayed with the lunch menu, which is reasonably priced given the quantity of food, but not inexpensive, ranging from $9.50 to $12.95. The dining area was nearly full, but we were waited on promptly, and our food came out quickly.

A popular choice at any Lebanese restaurant is the combination chicken and gyros platter ($11.95), with both of the meats deriving their flavor from being roasted on a rotisserie. The gyros, made of spiced and ground lamb, was moist and tender, a key consideration for any meat roasted on a spit. The chicken was moist as well, and both of the meats on Serop’s chicken and gyros platter were well-seasoned, but not excessively so by what is typical of Mediterranean food, which tends to be salty and with a robust amount of garlic. This dish came with rice and feta salad.

The lamb kebab ($12.95) was delightful. Five plump, moist chunks of succulent lamb came served on a bed of rice accented with sautéed onions and green peppers, along with feta salad and hummus. We were not asked how we wanted the lamb cooked, but we couldn’t have achieved our preference better had we been at the grill ourselves: pink center, medium with a slight lean toward medium rare, wonderfully flavorful. Anyone who likes lamb should like this.

A word about one of our favorite features of Mediterranean dining — hummus. Not all hummus is created equal, which is good, because not everyone agrees on the exact ratio between the zing of lemon juice, the punch of garlic and the subtle, nutty flavor of tahini (sesame seed paste). Serop’s formula is good, but we were especially enamored of the creamy, silky texture, which makes this chickpea concoction seem almost decadent, whether to accent any of the meats, or for dipping with the complimentary basket of pita bread.

Our dinner visit started with meatless stuffed grape leaves ($6.95). The five, cigar-shaped appetizers came stuffed with seasoned rice and vegetables that packed a nice flavor even without the accompanying dill sauce, which added a cool, pleasant accent.

The shrimp salad ($12.95) is a dinner salad that, according to the menu, comes either fried or grilled. We don’t remember being asked to specify, but they came out grilled, which is what we would have selected. There is an art to grilling shrimp so that they stay moist, and these six plump shrimp passed that test. Served on a large bed of mixed greens, with a smattering of diced tomatoes, bell peppers and onions with a zesty, garlic-laden dressing, it was a satisfying meal.

Similarly, the shrimp kebab ($14.95) produced shrimp that were perfectly cooked, marinated in lemon butter garlic sauce, and served with rice pilaf and hummus.

Kafta is a mixture of sirloin, onion, parsley and spices, and the kafta kabab ($14.95) came out looking like two sausage links rather than in slices as one might expect in a kabab. No matter. The meat was wonderfully flavorful, and there was plenty of it in the dinner entree.

The fish of the day ($14.95) was a broiled tilapia topped with lemon butter sauce and served with vegetables and rice pilaf. The fish came out with a crisp exterior, and the lemon and spicing we couldn’t identify (but liked) made this a hit.

Serop’s was out of creme brû lé e on the night we visited, so that limited us to the only other dessert item — and one more readily associated with Mediterranean food — baklava ($2.95). The crisp, flaky pastry was filled with a nut mixture that was finely chopped, which made it easier to cut with knife and fork. This isn’t a dessert for those who want decadence, but as a light, sweet finish to a meal, you can’t go wrong with this.