One of the places I want to get to before I head to that great culinary feast in the sky is Israel. I want to do all the sites and visit the landmarks as well as check out Haifa and Tel Aviv, take a swim in the Dead Sea and hike to Masada.
My interest in Israel piqued that much more when I recently saw some travelogue on PBS or Discovery addressing the various cuisines and dining options in Jerusalem. Some of it was new to me and some of it looked delicious, but it all looked very interesting.
I didn’t really know much about Israeli cuisine except that it had – not surprisingly – a Mediterranean and Middle Easter foundation. I had also heard there were a couple of Israeli restaurants in the Valley. I decided to take a test drive of one of the places and ended up at Dooby’s Grill Café in Mesa. I invited Madge and Boris along for company. Dad also expressed an interest, so we decided to make an evening of it.
Dooby’s turned out to be another restaurant in a strip mall, but that often is a good thing for us in the Valley of the Sun. We entered into the small eatery and I was a bit surprised when the hostess asked if we had a reservation. We did not, and she seemed troubled. Then, she quickly grabbed some menus and led us to a round-top table. We were handed menus and told that our server would be with us shortly.
A few minutes passed and a young man brought us water and said he would take our drink order. Madge had a Diet Pepsi ($1.75) while Dad, Boris and I had Iced Tea (1.75 each). Our server left to head into the kitchen giving us time to make our decisions.
Upon his return, he brought our drinks along with a basket of pita bread and a small bowl full of peppers, olives and pickles. The pita was hot and fresh, but the texture seemed somewhat off to me. Perhaps there was a different preparation for pita in Israeli cuisine. The texture wasn’t bad, just different and that surprised me. The various items in the small bowl were good and added a strong tanginess to our palates.
We then decided to place our order. To begin our meal, we decided to try the Hummus ($4.35) and an order of the Falafel ($4.35). Dad decided to get the Kebab Mixed Plate ($17.80). Madge loves Gyros, so she insisted on getting the Gyro Platter ($11.80), while Boris got the Chicken Kebob ($11.80). I decided to be a little adventurous and went for the Chicken Schnitzel with French Fries ($12.80). Our waiter informed us that our meals came with soup or salad. While I chose the House Salad, the other three ordered the Lentil Soup.
We sat and finished the pita bread while we chatted. I noticed that in the back room patrons could sit on the floor or on small pillows. The restaurant itself was decorated with various art pieces from the Middle East and Israel. It all worked quite well together and hid the fact that we were sitting in a strip mall in Mesa, Arizona.
There was some concern, however, about our service. We were beginning to notice that our server would disappear for long periods of time and we would have to flag him down for refills on water.
After a moderate wait, we were presented with our appetizers. The hummus was in a medium-sized plate and was decorated with parsley, paprika, olive oil and olives. We each grabbed some of the pita and too a taste. Sadly, we were all disappointed with the hummus. Besides the gritty texture, the dip was devoid of flavor. We all were trying to figure out what would have made it better, but it certainly lacked the complexity of a good hummus. I wish there had been something more to it, but it was below par.
The Falafel, on the other hand, was excellent. Hot, crunchy on the outside with a soft, mellow interior, we all liked these little nuggets. They were a stark contrast to the hummus in that they were bursting with flavor. The seasoning and cooking were done right and these disappeared quickly.
After another substantial wait, the Lentil soup arrived for Dad, Madge and Boris. The sizable bowls were served steaming. Boris and Madge thought the soup was above average but they both said they would have preferred it a bit creamier through a pureeing of the soup. Dad said he thought the soup was okay, but found it somewhat bland.
My salad was a simple preparation of some lettuce mixed with bits of tomato and tossed with a light vinaigrette. I thought it was quite good. The lettuce was fresh, crisp and cold. The tomatoes were good as well. The standout was the dressing. It was a refreshing vinaigrette with a bit of lemon for tartness and a reduction in the oil so it wasn’t so heavy. I thought it was a better choice than the soup for taste.
While we waited for our entrees, we were treated to some belly dancing. The dancer made her way around the room to the delight of the patrons. I convinced Dad to tuck a dollar bill into her waistband and he did so. I then told him that for $20.00 Mom would never have to know about the belly dancer.
After another substantial wait, our server brought out our entrees. Boris’ Chicken Kebab was on a large, oval platter and featured nine large chunks of grilled chicken hugging a mound of rice in the center. On either end of the platter were small dollops of hummus and tabbouleh. Boris said the chicken was hot and tender and like the char that was on the exterior of the pieces. He said the rice was fluffly and light. He also like the tabbouleh, which he found tangy and fresh.
Madge’s Gyro Plate was a hefty serving of gyro meat topped with a substantial amount of tzatziki sauce, all served next to a bed of rice and a small serving of hummus. Madge said the gyro meat was quite good, noting that it had excellent seasoning. She found the rice to be well prepared and liked the addition of some sliced almonds on top. She also like the tzatziki but said she would have preferred to have it served on the side instead of piled on top of the meat. Considering how much of the sauce there was, I thought that was a reasonable suggestion.
Dad’s Kebab Platter came with a choice of kebabs. He decided to go with the lamb, the kafta and the chicken kebabs. He was surprised that his platter came with fries instead of rice. I had also forgotten that fries can often be an Israeli side dish. I did mention that the fries were fresh because from my vantage point, I could see into the kitchen and saw someone running large spuds through a cutter. Dad tried each of the kebabs and the fries. Right off the bat, he said he thought the best of the bunch was the lamb. He liked the chicken second while the kafta came in last. “It’s a texture thing,” he said about the kafta. He said they were all good, but the lamb was a standout. He also liked the fries a lot, noting that they were clearly fresh and not frozen.
When I saw the Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, I was curious and drawn to it because I hadn’t had schnitzel in ages. But would it be good at an Israeli restaurant? My platter arrived and it hosted a large chicken schnitzel, a serving of the fresh fries, small servings of tabbouleh and hummus and two lemon wedges. I squeezed every last drop of liquid from the lemons onto my schnitzel. My first bite was outstanding. The breading was crisp and the chicken hot and tender. The lemon juice was perfect for it and I was raving about it. It truly was an excellent preparation. Oddly, some of the lemon juice had made its way onto the hummus and it made all the difference in the world. The fries were excellent. The fact that they were fresh gave them a rich texture and a dusting of the salt was all they needed.
After we finished our meals, we decided to split some desserts. Madge ordered the Bavarian Creme ($3.95) and we ordered two orders of the Baklava ($1.75 per order) for the table. Dad also ordered a Turkish Coffee ($1.50) for himself.
Oddly, our desserts came out of the kitchen fairly quickly. Madge’s Bavarian Creme was interesting in that it was a molded custard-like dessert that had been drizzled with chocolate syrup. Madge thought it would be served in a cup like pudding or custard, but it was on a cold plate. Madge indicated it was quite good, finding the texture very creamy and very subtle in flavor.
The Baklava was served two pieces per serving. The puff pastry had a walnut filling and was lightly dipped in honey and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It was not overly sweet and that scored points. We all thought it was a winner.
As we waited for our bill, the owner arrived and was making the rounds at the table offering apologies for the slow service. We thought this gesture went a long way to making up for the long stretches between courses and also having our drink glasses topped off.
When we did get the bill, the total was $80.15 which included tax. We felt this was a decent value. The service was slow, as mentioned before, but the apology from the owner was greatly appreciated.
Overall, we liked the food at Dooby’s, save the hummus which just didn’t do anything for us. Still, the food was fresh, hot and well prepared.
If this is anything like the food in Israel, I am sure my stomach won’t mind.
Dooby’s Grill Cafe
2909 South Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85202
Hours: Sunday and Monday - 11 AM to 3 PM; Tuesday through Thursday - 11 AM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday - 11 AM until closing.
Notes: Belly dancer on weekends; grill closes at 9 PM, but rest of menu is available; BYOB (beer and wine only).
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
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