Modest Road Map for Jerusalem

While sitting at a table draped in a blue and white checkerboard cloth, in the Jerusalem Market & Deli (which is tucked into the same North Miami strip mall addendum as the Mexican restaurant Paquito's), I came up with a "Road Map for Better Mideast Food." What makes me so optimistic about my plan's success is that it requires implementation of but two simple proposals. The first is a ban on microwave ovens in any establishment that serves falafel. These fried chickpea balls were never meant for zapping -- nor, for that matter, should pita breads be heated via anything other than a griddle or grill. This ban will lead to more freshly cooked and vibrantly textured falafels, shawarma, keftas, and kibels, which, I think you'll agree, offers us our best prospect for improved Middle Eastern cuisine.

The Jerusalem Market is a peaceful place to sit and indulge in such idle thoughts. Six tables with four seats around each form the "deli" part of the store, along with a counter behind which the foods get prepared. The décor is provided by the other sector of space, a market featuring shelves lined with all manner of groceries imported from the Middle East. Glass refrigerator doors along the back wall open to other fetching imports, like a wide array of cook-at-home bourekas (spinach, cheese, or meat-filled pockets of pastry).

Although disappointed at the microwaved nature of the falafel and pita at Jerusalem, I was impressed with a number of its other offerings, most notably the velvety smooth hummus and a baba ghannouj imbued with subtle undertones of charred eggplant flavor. Best all-around bet might be the cold combo plate, with these salads as well as tabbouleh, pink pickled cabbage slaw, and pita bread. You can get co-owner Sam, who often works behind the counter, to toss a couple of falafel balls onto the plate too. If your timing is right, they might even be fried to order.

I wouldn't bet the Western Wall that you'll like "manaeesh," which is pita bread baked with a topping of sesame seeds, oregano, thyme, and olive oil. On the other hand, if you do have a taste for manaeesh, this is probably the only place in town that makes it.

Char-grilled chicken kebabs were moist and flavorful -- better than either the lamb or kefta kebabs (kefta being a highly spiced ground meat mixture). As with most foods here, kebabs come in a sandwich (we will assume they remove the skewers), or on a platter with numerous salads and pita bread (great deal for $7.99).

Finish with the usual honey-drenched Mediterranean desserts, or a wedge of chocolate-coated halvah cut from a large slab. For an unusual post-dessert treat, you can purchase one of numerous hookahs displayed atop the grocery shelves, take it home, and enjoy a leisurely smoke of hashish (not supplied by the Jerusalem Market).

Wait a minute, I just remembered something -- that was supposed to be the second proposal in my Road Map for Better Mideast Food.


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