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Mezza Thyme’s Middle Eastern Warmth

Sister Restaurant to Zaytoon Pairs Small Bites with Fresh Cocktails on East Cota Street

Mezza Thyme manager Saud Khatib
Paul Wellman

If you’ve visited Zaytoon before, you know that the Lebanese restaurant on East Canon Perdido Street presents the perfect ambiance for warm summer nights, featuring a popular outdoor patio strung with lights, heated by bonfires, and buzzing with conversation. But when the colder, wetter nights of winter come around, Zaytoon’s summer vibe isn’t so alluring.

That’s what drove the owners to open Mezza Thyme on the restaurant row of East Cota Street. The new restaurant is Zaytoon’s “perfect complement,” according to the bartender, Daisy Gomez. Pairing small bites with cocktails, Mezza Thyme refers to patrons as “guests,” rather than “customers,” she explained, because they want all who walk through their doors to feel taken care of, exemplifying the Middle Eastern tradition of welcoming all visitors without question.

Once inside, guests are encouraged to sit wherever they like, and that first-come, first-served basis simplifies things for both the staff and guests. It also emphasizes the kind of atmosphere that Mezza Thyme is seeking to achieve: one characterized by class and elegance but wrapped in comfort, humility, and approachability.

The interior is inviting — dim, warm, and cozy with small, ornate chandeliers providing most of the light. The light-blue velvet lining on the bar paired with the low-lit atmosphere gives the feel of a very Prohibition-era speakeasy, providing a great way to escape chilly nights and enjoy a comfortable, delicious bite paired with a fresh cocktail.

The food meets the standards set by the atmosphere, one characterized by sophistication and precision of flavors. The traditional Lebanese items — from small bites like sambosik, a fried mozzarella and feta cheese stick, to the more filling shawarma sandwich — are made fresh-to-order, with most of the ingredients sourced from the farmers’ market, held every Tuesday around the corner on State Street and every Saturday down the block at Santa Barbara Street.

Each guest is greeted with complimentary hummus and pita bread, freshly baked from the oven, warm, and satisfyingly puffy. From there, the menu gives copious options for full meals or small shareables (or not to share). Luckily, Gomez recommended we start with Arak, a traditional Lebanese liquor — with a taste similar to black licorice, it’s so potent that it is usually diluted so that it can be enjoyed all day long. It proved a great companion to the babaganoush, a pureed dip distinctive for its smoky eggplant flavor, lending an element of depth compared to its more commonplace cousin, hummus (which is also unparalleled at Mezza Thyme).

Mezza Thyme, evidently, knows their dips and bites. To see why, order the Tume fries. Perfectly crispy fries, dusted with Aleppo pepper (similar to paprika), are served alongside a cloud of a mysterious white sauce that the manager, Saud Khatib, referred to as “the magic dip.” This freshly whipped garlic dip had my taste buds walking on a cloud.

The specialty drinks follow the same regimen of freshness. Without overpowering flavor in the food, the drinks provide an element of crisp refreshment to each dish. Among their most popular drinks is the Farmer’s Market Passionfruit, made with gin and fresh passionfruit, and many of the cocktails are bolstered by house-made syrups, ranging from simple to habanero.

From the veg-friendly light bites to the meaty mains and refreshing cocktails, the scene is smartly set at Mezze Thyme. Just like Zaytoon, the ambiance adds to the experience, but the food, service, and drinks stand on their own. Head to this hotspot to stay warm and be treated like the guest of honor.

20 E. Cota St., 496-0520; mezzathyme.com

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