Good day, Chowhounds!
I finally got around to trying the Middle East Bakery & Deli in Central Phoenix today. I had been having a craving for that cuisine for the past week or so and decided to try a place I had never been.
After nursing my third-degree burns sustained from getting into my car today (it was 112 F in Phoenix), I drove over to the place. At first, I missed it. The place is small and in a tiny strip mall (if you want to even call it that). There were a couple of parking spots out front and I pulled into one marked only for patrons of this establishment.
My first impressions of the place reminded me of the Arabic eateries on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn when I lived there in the mid-90s. There was Middle Eastern pop music playing and the smell of pita break in the air. In front of me was a couple of aisles of Middle Eastern goods including boxed Turkish Delight and various spices. To my right was a freezer/refrigerator case sporting soups and pastries and meat pies.
I looked to the back and saw a deli case and a couple of registers. I was initially mildly disappointed because I thought that there was really no place to sit down to enjoy my lunch. It was set up identically to several places I visited in Brooklyn where you ordered your meal, got the bag or styrofoam container and out the door you went.
Then, to my left, I noticed a small side room with half a dozen tables. A few patrons were eating and chatting. I didn't know if I ordered and then took a table or sat down and waited. The gentleman behind the counter motioned me over and asked me what I wanted. I stared at the menu on the wall. The options were plenty and it all sounded good.
After a few moments, I opted for the tabouli sandwich and some hummus. I also ordered a large ice water. I always figure that if they can't get tabouli and hummus right, you can forego the rest. The gentleman took my order, I paid and he gave me a number to place on my table.
I went to the side room and took a small table away from the window because I didn't want to be near the heat. About two minutes passed and a couple sitting at the table next to me were presented with their order. The man had the gyro plate which smelled heavenly. From what I could see, the gyro slices were plentiful and served on a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, pita and a sauce that I couldn't make out. The woman had a salad plate of some sort that included tabouli and a tahini dressing. Both looked great.
A minute or two passed and my tray arrived. Right away, I dove into the tabouli sandwich. It was a fresh-baked pita filled with crunchy and tart tabouli. It was wonderful. The parsley, onions and tomatoes were all fresh and the lemon juice was not overwhelming. I also liked the fact that the tabouli was not swimming in olive oil. Some places feel the need to make olive oil the main ingredient because it is the in thing. But good tabouli is a marriage of tastes and textures.
The only thing I didn't like about the tabouli sandwich was that accompanying the tabouli inside the pita were tomato slices. Unfortunately, my first bite was marred by the overwhelming taste of tomato. It masked the tabouli. Unfortunate, but easily remedied. The tomato in the tabouli mixture to begin with was sufficient, so after removing the slices, the sandwich was excellent.
Next up was the hummus. It was offered as a sandwich or as a dish with pita on the side. I took the latter. Hummus is one of those things that really can be wonderful or horribly awful. I ripped off a piece of the warm, fresh pita and dunked it into the hummus, which had a nice little puddle of olive oil in the center.
First thing that grabbed my taste buds was the garlic. It was very present, but did not overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. It was simply nice to have a good, garlicky zap to my palatte. What I loved most, however, was the texture. I like a hummus with some body. I have had it where it resembles water and other times when it resembles cement. This was a good consistency. I think what made this a great dish was the warm pita served with it. The pita was chewy and soft and the two textures were great.
I finished the hummus, trying desperately to hide the fact that I was eating the last few bites with my fingers because I had exhausted the pita bread.
I bussed my own tray and gulped the last of my ice water. I then returned to the register and eyed the phyllo dough pastries in the display case. They had all the standards, but also a few surprises, including my choice which was called the "Nest" or something similar. It was a round cylinder of phyllo dough filled with a mixture of pistachios, cinnamon, almonds, walnuts and raisins. The whole thing was drizzled with honey. It was decadent and a steal for $1.25 for a nice sized piece.
I spent $10.55 plus tax on my lunch. This was a bit more than I had wanted to, but I wasn't disappointed. The portions were a good value at $4.65 each for the tabouli sandwich and $4.65 for the hummus with pita. I could have made a perfect lunch with just one of those and the dessert. However, it was a nice kick off to the Monday blahs to treat myself.
I was very pleased with the food. The deli and store are quirky and fun, including the videos of the belly dancers on the TV set mounted to the ceiling. The service was quick.
Now, the only issue remaining is what I will have next time I go there.
Middle East Bakery & Deli
3052 North 16th Street
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