Cheap Eats - Plates aplenty

Lebanese tapas at Mezza

Mezza is the Arabic word for hors d'oeuvre. It's also the name of yet another option for tapas- hopping in Atlanta.

Located in a strip mall off Lavista road, Mezza, with its simple red tablecloths and low lighting, lacks personality, but more than makes up for it in its array of food. Over 60 Lebanese menu items are offered, making Mezza a destination for ethnic dining.

Wait time: There was one other table occupied during dinner on a Saturday, and we were quickly seated. Tables in the open dining area filled up over the next hour, but never reached capacity.

Service: The server eagerly explained dishes and offered advice when asked. Our baba ghanoush and muhammara (a spread made from walnuts, garlic, bread crumbs, pomegranate syrup and cumin) arrived quickly. Pita and sesame bread arrived even faster.

What we ate: You can easily go overboard at Mezza. I recommend ordering four dishes for two people, more if you're really hungry. The baba ghanoush ($5.99) was some of the best I've had in Atlanta. The eggplant puree still had texture, and the tahini and lemon juice were at just the right amounts.

Goat cheese balls ($5.99) were rolled in various herbs and spices — sumac, cayenne, mint, parsley, thyme and oregano — and served atop sliced Roma tomatoes. The cayenne was a bit much, but all the others were wonderful.

Muhammara ($5.99) — a spicy mix of ground red bell peppers, walnuts, pistachios, hot peppers and lemon juice piled on pita — is an interesting mix of flavors and textures.

Makanek ($6.99) included five beef sausages wrapped in "mountain thin bread" served with a lemon and garlic dip. The sausage was mild and paired well with the sauce.

Cheapest item: Soups, salads and baked items are $4.99. At that price, you can get a plate of tabouleh (finely chopped parsley, cracked wheat, fresh mint, diced tomatoes and onions dressed with lemon juice and olive oil), fattoush (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, mint and toasted pita bread dressed with garlic herb dressing) or fatayer (three pies stuffed with spinach, pine nuts, onions and spices).

Most expensive item: The meat items run the highest at $6.99 a plate. This includes: two kebab skewers with a choice of marinated and grilled lamb, beef or chicken served on a bed of vermicelli rice; shawarma (slices of beef marinated and topped with tahini); or beef stuffed grape leaves. Leave the mezza tenders (chicken tenders covered in falafel batter and fried) to those faint of heart. There's too much excellent authentic food to sample.??