Can't afford a Mediterranean cruise? That's OK. Neither can I. Fortunately, Carmel Kitchen & Wine Bar is serving tasty creations from Greece, Tunisia and other countries bordering the picturesque sea beginning today at the former site of Mangos Coastal Cuisine, 3750 Hamilton Blvd. (across from Dorney Park) in South Whitehall Township.
The 160-seat restaurant is part of a Tampa-based chain that offers "modern interpretations of Mediterranean cuisine meticulously paired with global wines."
Featured entrees include grouper, lobster risotto, Mediterranean branzino (sea bass) and Morrocan lemon chicken, among others.
"We've got something for everyone's tastes, but my personal favorites are the basil grilled salmon, braised short ribs and filet medallions," said operating partner Jason Spatzier.
Other menu highlights include "shareables" such as the Basque crab cake and chickpea fries; flatbreads such as the tomato margherita and braised short rib and portobello; spreads such as edamame hummus and Nan's goat cheese; and seasonal selections such as ceviche and gazpacho.
The culinary team is led by head chef Dan Bricker, who has had cooking gigs at a regional Carrabba's Italian Grill and Outback Steakhouse, the latter of which Carmel co-owner Chris Sullivan co-founded in 1988.
A 16-seat granite bar serves more than 60 domestic and international wines, including premium varieties from Italy and Napa Valley, as well handcrafted libations such as Lavender Lemonade, Skinny Poma-tini and St. Pineapple. Among the four draft beers are selections from Pennsylvania breweries Troegs, Victory and Weyerbacher.
Weekly specials include half-price wine bottles on Wednesdays and $5 martinis on Thursdays.
Interactive iPad menus offer diners a chance to view photos and suggested wine pairings for all items.
"The iPad menus simply give customers a chance to examine items more closely and also free up time for servers to better take care of guests," Spatzier said. "Traditional menus are also available."
Renovations to the former Mangos began in the fall, Spatzier said, with the 6,500-square-foot building "essentially having to be gutted." New carpeting, lighting, woodwork and leather-padded booths now fill the space, with brightly colored vases and paintings presenting a distinctive Mediterranean feel.
A partially covered patio, featuring lounge furniture and a fire pit, offers seasonal outdoor dining for 42 while an indoor private party room can accommodate 25.
The South Whitehall Carmel, offering takeout, supplements the chain's only other Pennsylvania location in Warrington, Bucks County.
Other area Mediterranean restaurants include Daddy's Place in Easton, Yianni's Taverna in Lower Saucon Township and True Blue in Bethlehem and Emmaus, among others.
Hours, which will expand to lunchtime in about a month, are 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday. Info: 484-350-3147 or carmel-kitchen.com.
While I'm on the topic of wine, let me tell about you a venture under construction near Kutztown.
Folino Estate Vineyard & Winery at 340 Old Route 22 in Greenwich Township should be open by the fall, according to Andrea Folino, who co-owns the business with her husband, Marco, and brother-in-law, Stefano.
The new winery will be unique as it also will offer visitors a 120-seat full-service restaurant, serving Italian fare. Banquet space will be available for up to 220 people, and weddings and other events are already being booked for 2016.
As for wine, the focus will be on Italian-style varieties, Folino said.
The winery won't be selling any of its own wine for about three years, she added, as the trio has just begun growing grapes. However, the Folinos are working with a Lancaster winery to produce wine on Folino's behalf that will be sold this fall.
Info: 484-452-3633 or facebook.com/folinoestate.
In Williams Township, a new restaurant debuted March 26 at the former Morgan's Table restaurant at 100 Clubhouse Drive.
The View at Morgan Hill is a result of The Club at Morgan Hill golf course recently being sold to Sal and Maria Lapio, who changed the name of the course to Morgan Hill Golf Course. Before Morgan's Table's three-month stint, the space was occupied by Vintage Restaurant and Bar for 10 years.
An expansive menu of soups, salads, chicken wings, burgers, crab cakes and steaks is offered. Examples of daily specials include stuffed salmon, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, balsamic chicken cutlets and coconut curry seafood pasta.
A full bar, featuring a 75-inch television, serves eight draft beers and six draft wines.
"The [Lapio] family doesn't believe a great dining experience has to be high-end pricing, just exceptional food, customer service and beautiful views," said director of golf Patrick Mallory.
Changes to the restaurant include new carpeting, paint and decor, while changes to the course include new senior tees, the removal of several bunkers, the addition of rangers and clocks (to speed up play) and reduced prime-time rates ($49 on weekdays and $59 on weekends).
The Lapios also operate Bella Vista Golf Course in Gilbertsville and Mainland Golf Course in Harleysville. Info: 610-923-8480.
Thanks to Retail Watcher Megan Daly of Hellertown, I learned that another restaurant recently opened in the Easton area.
Fast-food favorite McDonald's is serving its Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets and other signature items on Town Center Boulevard, near Sullivan Trail, in Forks Township. The restaurant, which features a 24-hour drive-thru window, is behind Rita's Italian Ice and across from Giant Food & Drugstore.
Other locations nearby can be found in Easton, Phillipsburg and Palmer Township. Info: mcdonalds.com.
As freelance writer Charles Malinchak reported Wednesday, Hellertown's long-vacant movie theater is about to get a new billing.
Dr. James Newman, an Easton area dentist, has purchased the 1152 Main St. building and is turning it into a dental practice and salon-day spa.
The $1 million renovation calls for preserving as much of the art deco facade as possible, including reconstructing three spires on the front and maintaining the original entrance overhang. The ticket booth was rotted and had to be removed.
"Once it's done, which could be by July, it will still be recognizable as a movie theater," Newman said.
Part of the overhaul includes removing a rear portion of the building where the movie screen and stage were set, which borough zoning officer Kris Russo said is being done to provide parking.
The theatre, which opened in 1940 as Sauconia Theatre and closed in 2001 as The Movies, will be re-imagined to house the Saucon Dental Group and Azzura Salon and Day Spa.
Newman also operates dental offices in Easton, Pen Argyl and Monroe County. Azzura will be an extension of his Pen Argyl salon of the same name. Info: azzurasalon.com.
I'll finish with news on three Italian restaurants.
First, Pizza Joe's at 550 S. Main St. in Nazareth has been repaired and reopened Wednesday following an October fire.
The eatery, owned by Jerry Bubba, has been serving borough residents for more than 20 years. Menu highlights include pizzas, calzones, strombolis, salads, subs, pasta, seafood, chicken and veal. Info: 610-759-8414.
Second, the owner of Tony's Pizza at 285 Delaware Ave. in Palmerton will be opening a BYOB Italian restaurant in the former 48 Hours video store at 623 Delaware Ave. in the borough.
A manager was unsure of the new name, but said he expects the new eatery will be open in about a month.
Finally, also in Palmerton, Papa Al's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria will debut soon at 315 Lehigh Ave., according to Sameerah Caban, who co-owns the business with her husband, Manny. A tentative opening date has not been announced.
The 60-seat BYOB eatery will serve a variety of pizzas and other Italian specialties such as calzones, strombolis, lasagna, veal parmigiana, chicken Florentine and seafood dishes.
The couple previously operated a restaurant in Brodheadsville for 10 years and launched a new food truck, Manny's Hot Spot, about three months ago in the parking lot of George's Plumbing & Heating at 155 Little Gap Road in Lower Towamensing Township. Popular picks there include paninis, wraps, hot and cold subs and 12-inch personal pan pizzas.
Papa Al's, named after Sameerah's father, will offer outdoor seating, free delivery and a complimentary glass of wine with entrees. Info: Papa Al's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria on Facebook.