Oct. 12 2011 12:00 AM

Woody’s in East Lansing features marvelous kafta, so-so spinach pie — and lots and lots of lemon


The new Woody’s Oasis building on
Trowbridge Road, a year old now, still shines, inside and out. Khaki
and green desert tones on tables and booths show no worse for wear,
maintaining a pristine veneer.

It’s the plastic palm trees, though, and
the airy, mall-food-court feel that causes one to realize the new
Woody’s, at least in location, is missing a touch of the character that
made the old location so unique.

Décor, though, is likely not on the
minds of most who venture to Woody’s for Mediterranean food, as folks
have for a quarter-century. No, patrons are looking for some tasty grub
made fast, something substantial, flavorful and not likely to leave
grease stains.

Woody’s satisfies such cravings, for the most part.

Any Mediterranean deli will have the staples of pita and hummus. At Woody’s, both come with combos.  

The pita, dubbed as soft on Woody’s website, is more aptly described as chewy.  And
I don’t mind chewy, but when my jaw muscles begin to feel fatigue after
working through a few wedges, I want a bit of truth in advertising.  

The hummus is standard fare, a little
heavier on the garlic and lighter on tahini than I like, but smooth and
tasty nevertheless.

I went with the kafta beef combo
($7.99), which came with pita, hummus and another side. I chose the
tabbouli, a salad made mostly of parsley, tomato and lemon juice.
Woody’s uses the curly parsley, which is typically used for garnish or
for texture in salads. But when parsley is the star of the show like in
tabbouli, this diner prefers flat leaf.

The kafta was the standout of the
evening. Beef and seasonings are formed into three little logs and
served atop a rather mundane and a bit dry bed of rice pilaf.
Disappointing pilaf aside, the kafta is full of flavor, juicy and
charred just enough to evoke Memorial Day cookouts. Delicious.  

My dining companion tried the fattouch
salad with her hashwi combo ($7.99). With a zingy lemon dressing, big,
juicy chunks of tomato, cucumber, slices of radish, romaine and herbs
come together in a refreshing medley. My favorite part: the crispy bits
of pita that act as croutons. For salad lovers, Woody’s fattouch, even
if it’s heavy on the salt like ours was, outshines the tabbouli.

My companion also enjoyed her cup of
rice and lentil soup ($2.29), with simple flavors, brought together
with a bit of lemon (you really have to like lemon to eat at Woody’s).
It didn’t do much for me.

Neither did the hashwi. A mixture of rice, ground beef,
chicken, almond slivers and spices — the most notable being cinnamon —
the list of ingredients is better than the execution. It was dry, like
the pilaf, and tasted like it was assembled, rather than cooked to

Likewise, the filo spinach pie ($2.99) disappointed. I
expected some kind of flaky crispness with the filo; instead I
discovered soft, chewy dough that, when the layers were peeled away,
turned the color and texture of tissue paper the closer I dug to the
filling. The filling itself was fine, a touch of feta with minced
spinach, but I couldn’t get past the pastry.   

For dessert, the namoura ($1.25) is definitely worth a
try. Little rectangular cakes are dense and crumbly, drenched in sweet,
delightfully sticky syrup. We also tried the ballourieh ($1), a
vegan-friendly dessert made with thin, crunchy wheat dough that holds a
mixture of pistachio filling and rosewater.  

Both sweets were natural accompaniments to coffee, so we
decided to try a cup of the Turkish variety ($1.75). Unlike so many
other restaurants, Woody’s doesn’t seem to rely on grounds scooped from
a week-old canister and cooked beyond recognition. It’s good stuff. In
the future, though, I might ask for the chef to go light on the
cardamom, a seasoning added to some Turkish coffees and very pronounced
in the cup we shared. 

Woody’s has added a raw juice menu, something I might try on my next visit.  For vegetarians and vegans, Woody’s truly is an oasis.  

There’s plenty to try at Woody’s: The menu is substantial.  Some
packaged food in a cold case at the counter is worth a try, too — the
Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta puts those dry crumbles you’ll find in most
supermarkets to shame.

The new Woody’s building might be made out of ticky
tacky, as the song goes, with a design so generic you could find it
anywhere. Woody’s retains a sense of its original character, though;
you’ll still find a pair of old-timers sitting in a corner, snapping
their wrists as they toss dice in a game of backgammon.  

You’ll get a taste of something unique at Woody’s.  Just don’t expect much more.

Woody’s Oasis

1050 Trowbridge Road,

East Lansing.

10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. (517) 351-2280. TO, D, P, OM, WiFi, $.

(517) 337-7744