As a kid, I loved Eastland Shopping Center. My family had moved from the mountains, and I was transfixed by that starburst-light sign that used to hang at the Winchester Road entrance.
Over the years, Eastland slipped and slid from that pinnacle of shopping excellence, overtaken by malls and strip centers and the move of money to more southern areas of Fayette County. Eastland’s bingo hall allowed fundraising parents to become permeated by walls of secondhand cigarette smoke, the Kroger left and the Save A Lot came, the Baskin-Robbins closed, the optometrist’s office closed, the hardware store closed.
Eastland had gone from the place with the gorgeous lights to the place I didn’t want to be stuck in after dark looking for yet another of my elderly mother’s lost cellphones. (She believes in Save A Lot like I believe in Kroger fuel points.)
Before I heard about this super new inexpensive restaurant called Nefertiti from my colleague Harriett Hendren, my previous Eastland food run had been to a barbecue place across the parking lot, where my sandwich bun was stale, and the light serving of meat was about a day past moist. With all the barbecue you can get in Lexington — and being just a click from finding a mobile Talley’s BBQ nearby — why settle for bad barbecue?
So I expected little when I entered Nefertiti, and I was delighted to be wrong. Odd décor aside — who puts a framed assembled puzzle of two little blonde girls in the entryway of their Mediterranean restaurant? — the food is authentic Mediterranean, tasty and served in enormous portions. The lunch special, which you can get any time, is less than $7. In a Lexington where you can’t even get a moderately priced sandwich with chips and a pickle for less than a tenner, that qualifies as a bargain.
An “ultimate platter,” which gets you extra meat or fish, is $9.49. There’s a family platter with six skewers for $20.99. Sandwiches, including the gyro, are $5.99, except for the $4.99 vegetarian falafel.
Nefertiti’s restaurant space is long and narrow, but it has plenty of seating. Salads and sides are housed in a cooler in front. Baklava is the sole dessert offered. Nefertiti inexplicably offers french fries as a side, which is completely unnecessary, but happily, it also offers Turkish coffee and mint tea.
Going to Nefertiti is fun because there’s a nice mix of neighborhood folks just discovering Mediterranean food and Lexington foodies who have made this a destination. During a wait one day, I exchanged pleasantries with a man who was, like me, eating his way through the menu after discovering the place. We were both overwhelmed with the shawarma platter, although I could speak up for the falafel platter: balls of spiced mashed chickpeas fried and served with hummus.
The neighborhood folks were passing around plates and sharing until they were ready for dessert. Not everyone knows how baklava is assembled or how it’s supposed to taste, but this table was willing to learn, and the counter help was more than willing to explain.
You will infer that I love Nefertiti’s hummus. This is the first time I ever thought that hummus would be great with breakfast.
The tahini is sharp-ish. I use it as a palate cleanser. I know it’s healthy, but that is a lot of parsley for someone who doesn’t eat it even as garnish. More appetizing for me is the Greek salad, packed with olives, onions and feta cheese. Because I couldn’t plow through an entire lunch in one sitting — and yes, I always try — I ate the Greek salad later.
I had the chicken shawarma platter with hummus on my first visit. It’s a mildly spiced meat stew served on top of what might have been a pound of savory yellow and white rice. The silky hummus put to shame any of the three hummus brands I have in various stages of decomposition in my refrigerator.
The second time around, I got the falafel — two large dumplings of fried chickpeas swimming in hummus. It’s vegetarian but not low-fat, and it was delicious. The skewer platter, which I tried with beef, was the closest thing to underseasoned, but the meat was mainly tender and the abundant mixed rice was a great complement.
Counter service is friendly and informative, but occasionally a bit disorganized. I got a free side dish one day because the guy who took my order apparently left the building after doing so, so I was sitting around playing on my phone waiting for a meal that wasn’t going to arrive.
Such bumps in the road aside, Nefertiti gives a bit of a culinary hope to that stretch of Winchester Road at New Circle Road extending out to the Hamburg area. If they would like to open a second restaurant, there’s a great stretch of New Circle Road and North Broadway on the north side that is crying out for neighborhood restaurants.
Address: 1301 Winchester Rd.
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
Payment: cash, credit cards
Other: shares parking with Eastland Shopping Center