As mentioned in the SpiceBreeze review I decided to make at least one of the recipes included with the spice blends from each of the three envelopes I received. Each of them turned out pretty well and the spice blends played key roles in every case.
The first one was using the “Tacos al pastor” seasoning mix.
This recipe called for creating a thick, onion heavy marinade that included the spices, some oil and tomato paste then coating the pork with it and letting it marinate for a while. It also called for frying up some pineapple rings to go along with the meat. The recipe called for the pork to be cooked then cut into strips and then fried again. I had some salsa in the fridge and threw that on as well to get the end result you see below.
They were terribly tasty tacos that had a smoky flavor imparted by the spice blend. Was worth my efforts.
The next one was a spice blend for and Indian dish, Summer Aloo Gobi Matar.
This hearty dish is a stew of potatoes, cauliflower, and peas that also included garlic, onion, tomato and ginger. In my case I exercised one of the suggested options and included a bit of chicken. Served with the suggested Basmati rice and naan this was filling and had some nice color. The spices in the blend played well together and it was savory and satisfying as well. For the curious the spices were; fennel, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. As an aside there was another pack in the envelope of whole cardamom seeds with a Mango Lassi recipe that also got used. I love mango lassi.
The last one was a Kabob Koobideh spice blend. This is a ground meat grilled kabob popular in Persian communities, as well as with others who just like good food.
Now I’ll admit up front these aren’t as visually appealing as they could have been and bear a striking resemblance to something you might not want to eat but trust me they tasted better than they looked. The restaurant versions of this dish I’ve had were a little thinner and were formed such that there were little ridges along the length almost like delimiters for bite sized chunks.
The recipe called for lamb, beef or chicken and had the store had lamb I’d have gone that way but instead I settled for lean ground beef. The recipe is fairly basic other than grating an onion and squeezing out all the juice, which isn’t difficult just something I’d never done to an onion before. Next up was adding some garlic, egg, spices and then the meat. Then you knead it for a while to incorporate everything and give it texture. In this case the spice blend consisted of sumac, turmeric, black pepper & parsley. The recipe called for just shaping the meat into long patties and frying but I was having none of that and decided they’d be shaped on skewers and grilled like they should be. The end result, when paired with the marinated cabbage (also included in the recipe) and some rice, was very good and bonus there were plenty of left-overs.
I have to give the SpiceBreeze team props for some fairly simple recipes that were delicious and did a good job showing off the spice packs they sent. So while it wasn’t something I wanted to continue I could certainly recommend it to others who might want to try their hands and discovering new cuisines.
This installment I go a bit further east along the Mediterranean Sea to the middle east for a spice blend. Thyme is not the only herb in Za’atar, the particular version I used also has the requisite sesame seeds, sumac and salt but also marjoram and oregano. A very aromatic blend.
If you haven’t guessed this is another cooking at home entry. Za’atar is used a lot of different ways from adding it to olive oil dipped pita to sprinkling it into hummus to adding it to meat and vegetable dishes. I opted to try the last of those by using pork as my protein. While pork is not a huge middle-eastern favorite I had that 2lb slab of pork left from the sausage making so it would do. I had about 2 tbsps of the spice so mixed it with olive oil to make a paste to spread on each side of the pork and then let it marinate (sort of) for a while.
I wanted it tender so I decided to sear it on both sides and then throw it in the pressure cooker with some chicken stock for the pressure liquid and a small onion sliced thin. It came out tender, however in hindsight I think baking it would have preserved more of the spice blend on the pork. It still tasted nice with the thyme and oregano coming through well. I captured more of the other flavors using some of the juices later.
To keep the meal in theme I made some couscous and homemade pita bread and then added some mixed vegetables for color and just because they’re good.
After taking the picture I added the aforementioned juices to the couscous and pork and that perked up both.
I’ve used za’atar before in chicken dishes from Blue Apron so I know it goes well with chicken too. My favorite way to date though was using some on a pita with olive oil and a bit of feta and baking it just a bit. It’s a very versatile blend and worth trying out.
Well after several weeks of laziness I decided to drop the December Holiday Yums box entry.
The 2019 Holiday box had 13 snacks from 13 different countries; Spain, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Philippines, France, Jordan, Austria, Croatia, Belgium, Japan, and Poland. There were a couple of repeats from previous boxes but mostly it was new stuff. My favorite was a repeat.
The Jabri Mixed Baklava was my favorite from last year’s Holiday box as well. The regular is great but the birds nest version with pistachios is just a special treat. It did have some competition this year in the form of a Belgian treat.
If I haven’t said it before I’ll say it now, white chocolate is not my jam but add some cinnamon cookie bits and I’m inviting you to the party. It was like an uber-sweet snickerdoodle. A little went a long way sort of like the most unusual paring of the box.
The Spanish weighed in again with a twisted chip flavor because someone thought, “you know what this chip needs? Raspberries!” It really didn’t. It was better than I expected but I had the bar pretty low going in. The raspberry flavor was reasonably muted so it was more like a distraction from a quality chip that an enhancement. The French, not to be left out of the chip wars said “hold mon bier”.
Roasted chicken chips? I had high expectations in spite of past experience with most “meat” flavored chips. First chip had me impressed and thinking “by golly these do have a roast chicken flavor” by about the 4th chip though I was over it. It was just too much of the roast chicken flavor, which is something I never imagined saying. I could’t even finish the bag. Croatia managed to come in with powerful entry though that I did finish.
As soon as the package was opened the garlic smell ventured forth like it was planning to conquer the world or at least the room. The pretzel sticks were good and crunchy even with the hollow core that was loaded with garlic. I do mean loaded. It was so garlicky I had to go brush my teeth and gargle just so I could move on with my day.
Most interesting taste sensation goes to the Polish gingerbread.
This was actually the first thing I had from the box. Gingerbread snacks have been hit or miss but this entry with black currant icing was tasty and light with a hard glaze icing. For the interesting taste sensation. As I was biting it I got a strong hint of black currant that was like a combination of scent and taste but it hadn’t yet hit the tongue. This certainly has happened with other foods but this was probably the most remarkable because the black currant taste on eating it was very subtle until I was finished and then it lingered. Good start, good finish.
The other snacks were mostly good with a couple of so so but the grade for the Holiday box was an A-.
The next blog entry will have me out and about again for a lunch at one of a couple of new (to me) restaurants I’ve found.
OK this is multi-day blog so it’s longer than the average entry.
A couple of weekends ago a number of family members went to Arlington, VA to have my Father’s urn placed in Arlington National Cemetery with the accompanying military honors. The service was on Monday so my sisters, their husbands and my two youngest nephews met up the Friday before and started our dining experiences at Ireland’s Four Courts pub just a couple of blocks from our hotel. My sisters both went with the Chicken Boxty and my brothers-in-law both got the Shepherds Pie. Both dishes got high marks. My choice was the traditional Irish Breakfast.
If this is a normal breakfast I don’t understand how all of Ireland isn’t a bunch round people just rolling off the island based on the quantity of food. There were eggs, sausage (kind of bland), beans, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, toast, black and white pudding and hiding in the picture are two rashers of bacon. I’ll tell you right now this did not all get consumed but damage was done. The white pudding was the only new item for me and for taste was just a bit milder version of the black pudding. I guess the blood does make a difference. Since I had low expectations of the sausage links I was not disappointed and overall I enjoyed the breakfast for dinner alongside a Magner’s Irish Cider, which was just OK.
Our next group meal was in DC at a place just off the Mall, b DC Penn Quarter. Their sub-title is burgers. beer. bourbon. I can vouch for 2 out of 3. We’d been to one of the Smithsonian museums and had built up a thirst and appetite. Many burgers were ordered and water consumed in large quantities. My choice of burger was the 3 Shrooms.
Now I’ll admit the picture doesn’t look appetizing but let me tell you it was fantastic. The burger was a 7 oz patty of in-house ground beef with sauteed mushrooms, a mushroom spread, truffle mayo and lots of melted Swiss cheese on a soft bun. If you’re a shroom fan I don’t need to say much more and if you’re not I’d be wasting my breath so I’ll just leave you with the fact that I left an absolutely clean plate. To partner with the burger I selected a local beer, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager. It was a light easy drinking beer that went well with the very flavorful burger. Oh and there were crispy tots involved too.
The evening meal was Italian with local friends not seen in person for 40 or so years. We knew them from Geneva, Switzerland and the wonderful years we lived there. This was automatically going to elevate the meal. The place picked for us by our VA friends was Pazzo Pomodoro. Now the expectation got ratcheted up quickly as on the way in a gentleman I was holding the door open for to exit stopped to tell me this was the best Italian food in the area and I’d love it. Since I had no local frame of reference for Italian food I’d have to take his word for the first part but the second I’d decide for myself. I elected to try one of the Chef’s signature dishes.
The Involtini di Vitello was veal stuffed with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and wild mushrooms in a marsala sauce with vegetables on the side. I just realized the mushroom theme of the day. The veal was tender and the stuffing was savory and delicious. I had some local beer that I didn’t bother to keep track of because I was honestly more interested in catching up and enjoying the company of friends. I don’t know if this is the best Italian food in Vienna, VA but the dish I had was well worth the going for.
The next day we decided to get our cheese on and headed to The Swiss Bakery in Springfield, VA. This is a great little place that is a bakery with a side of Swiss market and oh yeah a restaurant. The cheese several of us got was raclette over potatoes. I went to the drink case to pick a beer but saw the Sinalco and had to get that instead. It is a citrus soda that was the first Swiss drink we had at my dad’s bosses house the night we arrived in Geneva so I had to get that. It was just like I remembered.
As mentioned I got the raclette cheese over potatoes which also came with bread, dried beef slices, pickled onions and baby dills. I also got a side bratwurst.
If you’ve never had raclette before I’ll say up front it smells like feet, after a long walk, but it is good. The pungent cheese and the plainness of the potatoes go well together. The salty dried beef and tangy pickled vegetables are perfect pals to have with this. The bread clears your palate so you can load it up with flavors all over again. The brat was good but really I could have done without it and been just fine. Since this was also a market we may have purchased some Swiss chocolate and there’s a possibility some pastries were procured.
The next day the international theme of meals continued when we walked the short distance from our hotel to MeJana Lebanese restaurant. It was just a little too warm for outside dining so we got a booth by the window so we could still have a good view of the street. We started with some hummus and warm flat bread and then right into various kebabs. I got the mixed grill.
The mixed grill had one chicken, one lamb and one kafta kebab plus rice and some vegetable matter on the side. The kafta was the most flavorful but a bit chewy. The chicken was probably the best overall as it was spiced just right and very tender. It was a ton of food and under other circumstances I might have carried some leftovers home but instead I plowed through. Thank goodness for the walk back to the hotel.
My final day in DC found me at the National Archives and the Smithsonian castle working up a lunch appetite. Checking out Yelp for stuff in walking distance I did a double take on the USDA Cafeteria and the high ratings it had so I needed to check this out for myself. After going through security and getting a visitor’s sticker I followed the stream of people to the cafeteria.
Wow this was one bad-a$$ cafeteria. It had a salad bar and hot bar that you pay by the pound plus deserts including cold and frozen options. Around the perimeter of the cafeteria are specialty stations like Korean BBQ, Italian, Deli, Mexican, and at least one more I’m forgetting but the choices were quite varied and the food all looked fresh and delicious. I decided to go for the Korean bowl, specifically the regular bowl. The small would have been sufficient.
The way this worked is you picked your carb, I got brown rice, then 4-6 vegetables, your meat or tofu then sauce. For vegetables I got some kimchi, something else spicy and pickled, some broccoli and sprouts. I got the beef and house sauce that was tangy and spicy. It was very good but I only got about 2/3 of it eaten before I had to tap out. The beef was good and the sauce was just spicy enough to make me sweat just a bit.
That pretty much wrapped up the culinary experience for my northen Virginia / Washington DC trip. I do want to say thank my family and friends who shared various meals with me; Lynn, Keith, Dee, Chris, Alex, Haley, Lauren, Jesse, Jay, (we missed you Paige), Ellie, Jackie, Shelley, Stephanie, Kallianna, Kyle & Julie. The meals were all enhanced by your presence.
Last weekend I was out running an errand and happened to notice one of the newest local restaurants in Rock Hill, Jasmine Grill. They took over a place that had been a fast food joint specializing in gyros and when I saw they were a Mediterranean place I wasn’t sure it was much more than a name change. I decided to stop in and check them out anyway and I’m glad I did. The place had been open 4 days and they didn’t even have their menu boards up.
They’ve adapted the old fast food set up so they have table service plus a counter where you can place take out orders or pick up called in orders. At this time it was a seat yourself and the dude working the floor would get around to you. So they weren’t fast but it’s not because they weren’t hustling because the counter guy and the floor guy were busting their butts.
The menu was definitely more than fast food Mediterranean. They have some standards like various kebabs, shawarma, wraps, salads, etc. I got the beef & lamb shawarma plate which came with two sides from a choice that included hummus, baba ganoush, white & yellow rice, fries, fatuch, labneh, or a house salad. I chose hummus and yellow rice.
First out was the hummus so I had something to snack on while I was waiting for the main event. There were two toasted pitas that served as delivery systems for the delicious hummus. A great way to whet the appetite.
The shawarma was served with a spicy pepper and a yogurty white pasty substance on the side. After a taste of the pepper sauce to see how hot it was I dumped the lot on the meat and added the white stuff and stirred it all up and it was a delicious combo. I did taste the meat prior to added either of the sides and it was tasty with neither added but it was better with them. The yellow rice was jasmine rice (what other kind would it have been) with a little carrot and peas added. Not a ton of flavor by itself but a good accompaniment to the shawarma and wow was the duo filling. They also have natural juices as well as tea and soft drinks so I took the chance to have some guava juice as well as tea to wash down this great meal.
If they sustain the level of patronage they were getting while I was there they will be very successful and I hope they are because I can see this becoming a regular place to grab some grub.
I normally pick a country for the title but in this case I chose to use the city name that is also the name of the cookbook I used for this blog entry. This week I decided instead of going out to a restaurant I’d make something. The road to this decision was short but winding. I was looking for new places for new countries and was searching for Israel and all I was getting were a couple of delis. I remembered I had a cookbook in my Kindle library called Jerusalem: a Cookbook that I bought when it was a $1.99 deal. I’d heard the authors on some radio show, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, both from Jerusalem and they discussed the similarities and differences in the food they grew up with and the other influences in the cities cuisine. Plus it reminded me of the short 1 day tour of Jerusalem I got to enjoy a few years ago. Add to this that some of my friends are currently observing Lent and going meatless most of the time and I thought hmm…I bet there’s a vegetable main dish in here that might be worth trying.
I flipped through and found several interesting possibilities but settled on the Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur & Yogurt. This sounded like would be filling if nothing else. There is a link to the actual recipe on the Tell Me More page. I had most of the spices to make the chermoula paste and almost all of the other ingredients were easily picked up at a local grocery. There were a few things I had to modify though. I didn’t have and couldn’t find the preserved lemon peel (there is a recipe for it in the book) but I did have some lemon infused olive oil I’d received as part of a Christmas gift so I used that and some lemon zest. I also couldn’t find bulgur without going further out of my way on a rainy day than I wanted to so I settled for buckwheat as a substitute. The last change, I wasn’t feeling the cilantro so I left that out entirely. Oh and since there is just the one of me I halved the recipe.
Here’s the eggplant or aubergine if you prefer after baking with the chermoula.
The chermoula was easy to make and by itself is very flavor packed and I can see where it would be good on other vegetables and some meats as well. Here is the final product with the buckwheat and some baked pita bread with za’atar and olive oil.
The eggplant and chermoula were good and would be a good central element for a meal that included side dishes other than bulgur or buckwheat. As mentioned the paste has a great flavor and the citrus plus heat from chile flakes pack some tangy heat to the meal. The buckwheat I substituted for the bulgur thickened up during cooking but the olive oil and lemon juice cut the pastiness a bit. There were raisins, olives, & mint all added as well that ramped up the tastiness of the buckwheat and the whole was topped with Greek yogurt and toasted almond slices. The toasted pita with olive oil allowed me to try another spice mixture, za’atar, mentioned in the book and which I happened to have on hand thanks to the Christmas gift mentioned earlier which had 12 spice blends from around the world. Za’atar has a bold flavor and I’d say is a blend you to be used liberally on whatever you choose to sprinkle it on. The mixture I have is a common variety using thyme instead of the original hyssop or za’atar which gives the mixture its name.
I enjoyed the meal and it was quite filling so if you want to skip the meat for a meal and like bold flavors give this a go. I’m glad I did.
Earlier in the week I was looking for some new restaurants / countries to take the culinary-passport when I stumbled across the Golden Bakery in Charlotte. It is a bakery owned and operated by a Syrian family and it looked like they had some items I wouldn’t be finding just anywhere. After making the drive to Sharon Amity rd. I found the bakery in an old strip shopping center. There are a couple of other ethnic restaurants sharing the parking lot with it and a middle east market next door.
When you walk into the bakery you see the counter and display cases to the left, a couple of café tables in the small area in front of the cases and a pass through into the market next door on your right. I considered grabbing something to eat there but the tables were both occupied so after a short perusal of the options I decided to buy a mixed dozen of the fatayer(s). I’m not sure how that should be pluralized. And because I’m not leaving a bakery without something sweet I got a couple of the pistachio baclawa (yes that’s how they spell it). I was given a ticket and directed to the market side to pay for it so I walked around the market for a bit and picked up some coffee and twigs as you can see further down the post.
The twelve fatayer consisted of two of each of the six types they carried and were easily enough for 3 meals. Not bad for $12.99. For lunch I had a soujok, chicken, spinach & feta, and beef. These I just pulled out of the bag and ate as was. First let me say the bread was great. It was heartier than a pastry dough and a bit more dense than a straight up bread dough. Each filling had a distinctive shape. The half moon was filled with soujok, a spicy sausage. It did have a little heat to it and was slightly greasy and bled through the bottom of the dough. It was tasty though. The closed pinwheel looking one was filled with ground chicken and something I’m not sure of but it was good. The spinach and feta was square with an open center. This was one of my favorites. The feta was mild and paired with the spinach in an almost creamy consistency. You got a nice taste of the slightly bitter spinach, the mild cheese and the sweetness of the bread. Very nice!. The beef also had an open center. There was a touch of spiciness to this one as well as a bit of green pepper to enhance the beef. I tried the other two for dinner along with a couple of reruns.
I smartened up at dinner and popped these in the oven for 10 minutes to warm them up and it did enhance the experience. The triangular one was spinach filled. This was probably my least favorite of the six but still not bad. The spinach filling had some olive oil and lemon juice that gave it a tart flavor. The canoe shaped one with the open center was plain cheese and was very good and in the top two for me. It was very simple with bread and a mild, buttery flavored cheese. I’d be happy to have any of these again but uncharacteristically I think two of the non-meat options were my favorites, the spinach & feta and the plain cheese.
I didn’t forget the pistachio baclawa. This wasn’t as sweet as most of the Greek baklava I’ve had but it was still plenty sweet and the pistachios were a nice little change of pace and added color. They also had walnut and almond variations as well.
As I mentioned I walked around the market and saw lots of middle eastern groceries in Arabic that I had now idea what it was but I did see coffee that had cardamom that looked interesting so I grabbed a bag and at the register they had natural licorice root that was really twigs to chew on but still worth the few cents they cost. So on the coffee brainiac here missed the part, in English mind you, that said Turkish coffee. That stuff was ground quite fine. I have a couple of fill-it-yourself K-cups so I thought what the heck let’s try it. Let me save you some trouble if you ever think the same, don’t do it! The Turkish coffee and Keurig did not play well together. The grounds packed so tight against outlet that it took like 10 minutes to fully dispense 8 ounces. On the upside the coffee was nice and strong with a serious cardamom kick. The other downside was cleaning the K-cup of the sludge.
As I said I’d definitely visit this place again and they have a number of other middle eastern items to try plus personal size pizzas for those who might not want to go out too far on a limb.
You can find a recipe for a fatayer on the Tell Me More page, along with some music, random facts and Amazon search results for Syria.
I guess that should have been Connnn! Well, nerds gotta nerd.
This past weekend I carted the old culinary passport to DragonCon 2017. In addition to all the great pop-culture, geek, gaming, educational, art and cosplay available there is no shortage of food options in downtown Atlanta. In the host hotels and at the Americas Mart buildings you can’t swing a dead Pokémon without hitting a pizza or sandwich stand. If you walk a bit further the Peachtree Center food court offers a ton of variety all jammed together and offers plenty of opportunity to make new friends as any empty chair at a table is gold and sharing tables is pretty much obligatory and sitting in the floor, back against the wall is not unheard of. If you want to enjoy a bit of downtime from the crowds you can find some of the restaurants that aren’t totally overwhelmed with con goers. I visited three while I was there. One was a revisit and two were new. They are truly international in theme as one was Italian, one Turkish and one a Pacific rim themed restaurant.
The first of the trio was Amalfi Pizza on Andrew Young Int’l Blvd. The entrance opens to a wide set of stairs in a decorated foyer that take you into the restaurant proper. There was plenty of seating and I was shown to a table by a smiling young lady. I decided to have one of their house specialties, Pizza Amalfi and a Jekyll Brewing Hop Dang Diggity to wash it down.
The pizza was great. First off it’s from a wood fired pizza oven so you get that little bit of char that adds that extra touch to the pizza. The pizza itself had fresh mozzarella, spicy sausage, crushed tomato sauce, peppadew peppers, caramelized onions, and their own bacon jam. The toppings weren’t piled on like a lot of franchise pizzas so the flavors might vary from one bite to the next. When you got a bit of the bacon jam it gave the pizza an almost barbeque sauce flavor with the sweet and smoky flavor. The sausage wasn’t very spicy in my opinion but did have a good Italian sausage flavor. The beer was an IPA, nothing special amid the glut of IPAs in the craft brew world.
Next up was Truva for lunch. I did a blog entry for Truva last year that you can find in the archives if you choose. Truva is a Turkish restaurant and is a dimly lit place on a second floor and out of the way enough that only the people from the con who truly want Turkish food show up so it’s a great getaway spot. This year I decided to have a couple of their appetizers instead of an entrée as I figured it might be a little less heavy. I got the Etli Borek and Karniyarik. I loved the menu description of the etli borek, cigar shaped meat pastry. Karniyarik is stuffed eggplant. While I was waiting for the apps I was provided with a metal basket of warm bread with black sesame seeds and olive oil & balsamic vinegar to dredge it through.
That bread was worth the trip. Trying to be mindful of the calories I only ate a couple of pieces and felt like that was showing heroic restraint. Fortunately my meal of starters showed up.
The stuffed eggplant was partially peeled in sections to provide a decorative presentation and it was stuffed with a ground, spiced lamb and beef combo. It was ok but honestly I think it could have been spiced up a bit more and the eggplant was a little rubbery. Not my favorite dish from Truva to date. The cigar shaped meat pastries were better although it was essentially the same meat mixture. It benefitted from the pastry dough and the yogurt sauce which tasted like it had some mint in it. They could have doubled the sauce and made the dish twice as good as far as I’m concerned. I wrapped it up with a Turkish coffee. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the fancy cup like I did last time but the coffee was good. I’d have to give this visit only 4 stars. I’d have gone as low as 3.5 but the waiter was very good so that kept in the very good range. Oh yeah and the bread, I finished that basket before I left.
Last but certainly not least was the Pacific Rim Bistro on Peachtree Center Ave. It covers a wide span of Asian cuisines including sushi. This place was packed with con goers so I was seated at the sushi bar and even though I didn’t order any I got to watch them make it as I waited for my food. In addition to seating at the sushi bar they have tables inside as well as outside and both high tops and regular tables. The staff is also very attentive. I was checked on by at least three people aside from my server but it wasn’t annoying. I was torn between the Malaysian curry chicken and the Lamb stew in coconut curry and my server was helpful enough to let me know the lamb stew had been extremely popular so that tipped the scales.
The stew came with big chunks of vegetables; peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and cauliflower, all sharing the coconut curry bath with a healthy portion of bite sized lamb. The menu indicated it would come with black and jasmine rice but they only had jasmine by the time I ordered mine. That wasn’t a problem though as this was fantastic. It was one of the best things I’d eaten all week. I even like the cauliflower, which is a vegetable I’ve never really cared for. I’d definitely recommend this dish to anyone that didn’t have an aversion to something a little spicy.
Overall I was quite happy with my international dining experiences while enjoying DragonCon. If you’re in downtown Atlanta don’t hesitate to check one of these places out.
This weekend I found a relatively new place just a couple of miles from me that serves Persian cuisine so I had to go check them out. Nayeb is a restaurant and hookah lounge on Anderson Road in Rock Hill. It is easy to spot because it looks like a yellow barn. When I say yellow I mean bright like Tweety bird kind of yellow. The place has plenty of parking places and lots of seating inside. Outside there is a courtyard kind of set up the picture below shows a corner of. In front of this are some outdoor tables and to the side there is what looks like an outdoor lounge with sofa and everything. I’m guessing the courtyard is the hookah hangout.
I was the only patron in the place the whole time I was there. The only other person I saw was my waitress, Cindy. I’m guessing on the spelling since she didn’t have a nametag, it could be Sindee or Cyndi for all I know, not that it’s relevant. Anyway, she greeted me and I had my choice of seats so I grabbed a table with a window and a view of the hookahs and assorted tobaccos. The menu was presented and my drink order of unsweet tea was taken without delay.
The menu is limited but the dishes all had Persian names even if they weren’t exclusive to Persia so it felt authentic. The entrees were mainly kabobs which was cool with me and although I was tempted to get the combo platter which had 3 kinds of kabobs I decided to stick with the koobideh so I could try an appetizer as well. For the appetizer I selected the dolmeh stuffed grape leaves. After I placed the order Cindy brought me a pre-appetizer appetizer they serve each guest.
What we had here was warm, almost toasted, flatbread with basil and parsley, feta cheese, a wedge of raw onion and butter. According to her you take a bit of the herbs (sometimes you might have mint as well or in place of one of the others depending on what’s in the larder) and the feta and put them on the bread and either add some onion or just take a bite of the onion. I dutifully tried it with some basil, cheese and a layer of onion. It was ok but the bread by itself was the star of the little quartet. I didn’t eat much because I didn’t want to be full for my app and entrée.
The grape leaves arrived next. As you can see there were four grape leaves and what you don’t see is that they were stuffed with rice, herbs & spices. My first taste caught me by surprise because they were tangier than I expected. The grape leaves were tender and the filling was almost creamy in texture but you could see the grains of rice. I have since learned that dill and lemon juice are constituent parts of these stuffed grape leaves and account for the tanginess. I also tried some spice concoction that Cindy recommended trying on everything. It was ok and actually acted as a counterbalance to the tartness of the grape leaves.
My koobideh arrived nice and hot from the grill. Koobideh is ground, spiced meat formed around a skewer and traditionally grilled over hot coals. I’m not sure if these were grilled over a gas fire or a coal fire but they didn’t have any smokiness to the flavor so the flavor was all from the meat and spices. Again there was a tartness to the first bite that caught me off guard but it went well paired with the relative blandness of the rice. I have to say the odd segmentation of the kabobs was unexpected as well. They were handy places to cut the meat in bite size pieces but didn’t really enhance the visual appeal. The rice was just about perfect. There was no stickiness and you could have easily eaten one grain at a time if you were that weird. The bit of saffron added some color but not much in the way of flavor. The grilled tomato also was a nice touch.
A last note on the tea. I enjoyed it quite a bit and could taste something other than teas in it. I asked and was told it was a Persian tea that included cardamom and it clicked. I was basically drinking iced Earl Grey.
I’ll definitely be going back, if not for the weekday all you can eat Mediterranean buffet for 6.99, then at least to try one of the other types of kabobs. I’m surprised they aren’t busier than they are and they have a lot of tables and parking sitting idle. The Yelp reviews may be keeping some people away. The most recent 4 reviews are a couple of one star reviews sandwiched between two five star reviews all within a couple of weeks. Maybe the money’s in the hookahs.
If you’re interested in how to fix the koobideh or in Persian music or just a random fact check out the Tell Me More page.
In this case H&K is not referring to the firearms company but hummus & kebabs. My last run at Lebanese food was at a great restaurant in Columbia, SC (see the post). I decided to try a Lebanese place marginally closer in Matthews, NC called Kabab-Je.
They are located in a very busy shopping complex and you have to look closely to find them among all the other restaurants and shops. They have a large outdoor seating area and if the weather had been just a few degrees cooler I’d have opted to enjoy al fresco dining. The interior has plenty of seating and I was immediately shown to a table. In the middle of the restaurant is a rectangle of display cases showing food available to take out as well as what you can order to eat in.
Even though I was by myself I ordered the hummus appetizer because, well hummus.
It did not disappoint. Their hummus is thinner and creamier than most of that you find in grocery stores. When the young lady brought it there was a well of space in the center that was designed to hold some additional olive oil if you wanted it. I did. The hummus was served with a warm, fresh pita that proved to be a delicious hummus delivery system. I got about half way through the hummus before my kafta arrived.
The kafta was two skewers of spiced minced lamb and beef charcoal grilled. They were served with grilled vegetable and basmati rice. The vegetables; peppers, zucchini, onions, carrots, green beans, and yellow squash were soft and lightly seasoned. The rice was basmati with saffron and topped with some carrots and some golden raisins that added a bit of sweetness. The kafta was excellent. It slid off the skewers easily and still had plenty of juice that enhanced the seasoned meat quite well. It was fork cutting tender as you’d expect from properly grilled ground meat. The mixed lamb and beef had a nice flavor and was complimented by the rice and vegetables. I’m not sure the photo does justice to the size of the portions but there was a lot of food here and after eating half the hummus I had to walk away with significant amount of rice still on the plate. Oh, the lettuce was sacrificed as well.
The food was top notch and the server was friendly, attentive and fast. That was something I noticed. They had plenty of staff and none of them were dawdlers. They got people in and out without making anyone feel rushed at all. If they were closer I’d be a regular.
If you missed the last Tell Me More page for Lebanon click the link now.