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Lunch, Anyone? Verts

Build your own fresh Mediterranean fare at new downtown eatery

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If thinking of juicy meat grilled on a spit, crispy falafel, creamy tzatziki, and boldly spiced vegetables makes your mouth water, do yourself a favor and head downtown to Verts Mediterranean Grill. It’s a trip you won’t regret.

The fast-casual eatery is part of a chain first launched in Austin, Tex., in 2011 by two German-born University of Texas at Austin graduates, who missed the Mediterranean food of their native Europe. The Summer Street locale opened in November, and a second is scheduled to open soon on Boylston Street. With 37 restaurants so far and plans to expand to as many as 200, the chain seems to be becoming the go-to place for fresh, tasty Mediterranean food on the go.

Following the “build-your-own” trend of chains like Chipotle and Sweetgreen, Verts allows patrons to create their own entrées and experiment with unique flavor combinations. The menu offers food “that’s as good for your body as it is for your taste buds.” Most meals are under 600 calories, but don’t be fooled. The entrées may be low-cal, but as we discovered during a recent visit, they offer quite a large array of tastes. (An online nutrition tool allows patrons to check the nutrition information of each ingredient and filter ingredients based on dietary restrictions.)

Verts Mediterranean Grill worker at the service counter

Customers can watch meat being roasted on spits and vegetables being prepared in the open-concept kitchen and counter area.

The first step in customizing your bowl is selecting a base of either pita, mixed greens, rice, or quinoa. You then pick a protein (beef, lamb, turkey and mushroom meatballs, chicken, braised pork, or handmade falafel), choose toppings (among the standouts: pickled red onions, jalapeños, butternut squash and grilled fennel, quinoa, and red cabbage slaw). Finally, select one of the excellent sauces (spicy cilantro dressing, eggplant dip, hot harissa, tzatziki, and herb vinaigrette). French fries and sweet potato fries, a pita and hummus plate, and pita chips with dip can be ordered as a side dish or stand-alone snack.

We ordered two rice bowls. The first was topped with falafel, spiced chickpeas, cucumber and tomato salad, carrot slaw, pickled jalapeños, an herb mix, and feta cheese, topped off with tzatziki sauce. The falafel was a little dry, but hot and nicely crisp on the outside. It was complemented by the delicate rice, tangy, spicy jalapeños that paired well with the cucumber and yogurt tzatziki sauce, and fresh herbs. The carrots were crisp and flavorful, the chickpeas had a bit of bite, and the tomato and cucumber salad was fresh, but largely tasteless.

The second rice bowl, topped with chicken, spiced chickpeas, marinated green olives, hummus, spicy red pepper sauce, and hot harissa, packed real heat. The smoky, juicy, tender chicken was the star of the dish. The spicy sauces had layers of tangy, savory, and slightly sweet flavors and were hot but not unmanageably so. The green olives were lightly marinated and zesty, and the hummus was good, but not particularly noteworthy. The side of fries we ordered arrived crispy, piping hot, and covered in a house-made “fry spice,” a combination of cumin, red pepper, and sumac, a tangy, lemony spice frequently used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.

Bowl One with Fries

You can customize your meal and explore different flavor pairings: (above) spiced French fries and a bowl featuring rice, falafel, chickpeas, cucumber and tomato salad, carrot slaw, pickled jalapeños, herbs, and feta, topped off with a zesty tzatziki sauce.

The restaurant has ample seating, so you don’t waste part of a lunch hour waiting for a table. The meal prep space is fully visible behind the counter, offering plenty to ogle while you wait: meat roasting on spits and kitchen staff cutting and prepping vegetables and sauces. The atmosphere is unhurried, despite the bustling neighborhood, making Verts the spot to unwind and enjoy a relaxed lunch.

Verts, 95 Summer Street, Boston, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; phone: 617-482-0198. Find the menu here. Take any MBTA Green Line B, C, or D trolley to Park Street and walk.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch and brunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Liz Vanderau can be reached at vanderau@bu.edu.

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