The Uzbeks have ceded to the Moroccans. At least in south Orlando on what in this case is the aptly named International Drive.
The last time I visited this space it was a full-service restaurant called Atlas House, which specialized in the cuisine of Uzbekistan. Atlas closed, one presumes with a shrug. Now it is a fast casual restaurant called Merguez, with foods of Moroccan descent.
I was delighted to see that Merguez (big M) specializes in tagine cooking and that merguez (little m) was one of the choices. A tagine gets its name from the dish it is cooked in, which is a round plate topped with a dome that chimneys the heat and smoke while the food is cooking. Merguez (here meant to be a small m but it’s starting off the sentence so its big) is a type of sausage that is common in North African cooking. Merguez (merguezes?) are small, almost smoky link-like.
And they’re pretty darned tasty, as was everything else in the dish. The sausages were sunk within a thick and pulpy tomato sauce, which also had lots of green olives, onions and peppers in it. There were myriad spices all blending together well, though I believe I detected the distinct taste of tumeric, which was quite pleasant. As is the custom, it was topped by a couple of eggs, though here they turned out to be fully cooked, almost omeletlike, instead of the more traditional poached eggs with yolks intact.
The only disappointment that it wasn’t served in the tagine base but rather on a square white plate. It would have been nice to have had the full experience of the serving plate.
Merguez’s website says that the space is “secluded and intimate, perfect for a romantic dinner.” I’ll give them the secluded. Tucked away in the corner of an under utilized strip, the restaurant is easy to miss. I can’t go along with intimate or romantic, unless the decor of a deli, with display cases and laminated tables with nothing on top is the sort of thing that sets your heart aflutter. Perhaps the rather loud Moroccan music that played over the sound system had romantic lyrics.
And for some reason, each time I’ve visited this place, including when it was Uzbeki, there were screaming children running about. Perhaps they come with the lease.
This is a fast-casual operation, so order from the nice young man at the counter and have a seat. If you want water with your meal, be prepared to purchase a bottle. Otherwise, the food was reasonably priced. My tagine was $9.99.
Merguez is at 11951 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-778-4343.