Veterans of the Downtown lunch hour likely spent time at Mario Moussa's old Mexican restaurant, Madonna's. It occupied a couple of different storefronts from 2001 until last summer, when it was forced to close for a second time because of changes to the Smithfield Street building it was located in.
Early this year, Moussa re-opened — but not as Madonna's, and not making Mexican food.
His new spot was at first called Palmyra; it serves Mediterranean food, specifically dishes prevalent in Syria, where Moussa and his wife are originally from (though he lived in Bulgaria for years). Chicken shawarma, hummus, grape leaves and the like fill the menu. Moussa says the larger space at the new location lent itself to Syrian cuisine where his previous, smaller spots did not.
The new menu was great, but the name was an issue: For one thing, old Madonna's customers didn't necessarily know Palmyra was Moussa's new place. For another, Moussa's brother opened another Middle Eastern restaurant, a few blocks down Smithfield, with the same name. ("I don't consider it competition," he says. "If he gets business, that's good — he's my brother!")
Three weeks ago, Moussa changed Palmyra's name to ... Madonna's. He says almost immediately he saw old regulars from the Mexican restaurant drop in, and only a few have said, "Where are the nachos?"