Mediterranean Imports and Deli, 5620 N. May Ave., is an old-school delicatessen that, for well over 30 years now, has managed to become a true Oklahoma City landmark, one that my old high school flame and I used to frequent quite a bit a couple of decades ago, usually around this time of the year.
Every time we’d stop here for lunch—typically after a couple of hours of horseplay in a local public pool—I would, without fail, always order the same thing: a Reuben sandwich (back in the day, I was very much into Reubens for some reason) and, of course, the occasional Gyro, for a little variety in my then-tiresome diet.
Somewhat tearfully, we broke up when I went to college and, subsequently, I guess I broke up with Mediterranean as well. Always driving by it on my various trips down May Ave., however, I would longingly daydream about those hand-made sandwiches, veering the car a couple of times into the next lane of traffic, promising that, eventually, I would make it back.
I finally made it back.
It was on a surprisingly rainy day last week when I went with a friend and, just like old times, the place looked quite the same; I even saw the old table we used to dine at while reeking of fresh chlorine, it was now taken by a couple of moms and their mostly well-behaved children. I’m pretty sure that even the menu board is still the same as well, written in erasable marker as neatly as possible.
And looking at that board, there they all were, my favorites: a Reuben sandwich ($5.49) and the Gyro sandwich ($5.99). Of course, without even looking at the rest of the menu, I ordered them, along with a Cabbage Roll ($0.99) and, for a meal-ending treat, a piece of Baklava ($1.25). (And yes, I know all about the hummus and falafel and so on…)
A new taste for me, I eagerly preambled my lunch with the large serving of a Cabbage Roll. Like a plumpish grub that you just can’t wait to bite into and feel explode in your mouth, the Cabbage Roll—stuffed with beef, of course—is a minced treat that has a welcomed earthy taste; as I gently chewed the damp cabbage leaves and warm meat, I started to feel like maybe one of these just wasn’t enough.
The Reuben, for some reason, looks smaller to me these days; maybe my distorted memory made it feel much larger? Either way, it’s still one of the best sandwiches that the city has to offer, with Mediterranean’s toasty homemade bread and tangy layers of corned beef building a wall of taste I was very eager to break down, the well-stacked helping of cheese and just a bit of dressing simply cascading with every nosh.
As I looked at my Gyro, I remembered how I usually shared a bite of it with this long-lost school-age lover, the large load of zippy beef in the warm pita pocket, spilling out the sides onto my plate and revealing a small garden of lettuce, onions, tomatoes and pickles with just a bit of cool sauce making all of your infantile romantic dreams, at the moment, come true. It still does, for me, at least.
And, like those sultry summer kisses that’ll easily turn into a sleazy dry-humping session in an empty parking lot, this Baklava is the perfect capper to the afternoon; precise and nutty with layer after layer of buttery pastry. As I took my last bite, it truly is so hard to say goodbye to yesterday, but so easy to say hello again to Mediterranean. Cómpralo ya!