Friday, January 9, 2015

At Peace with My Palestinian Chow

Peace Bakery and Deli
11220 N Lamar Blvd. (SW corner of Braker and N. Lamar)

Lamb shank, beets, and hummus

Near the upper end of the long, downward sloping strip center, on the southwest corner of Braker and N. Lamar, sits Peace Bakery and Deli. It occupies a bi-level spot, with the ⅓-sized bakery on the upper level and the ⅔-sized restaurant on the lower level. The owners are a family from Palestine, by way of Beaumont, and mom, pop, and daughter are usually all there, work the linet. I have no idea if the guy working the grill, or any of the bakery folks are related, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they were. These are very nice, friendly, hard-working folks, and the more of them that there are, the better off we all are.

Bakery counter, left side....

...and right.

I had been hearing good things about it for a while, and it’s surrounded by some pretty good eats. Peace sits a few doors away from one of my favorite pho joints (Pho Dan), a quarter of a mile south of the excellent Balkan Grill (I still need to try the little Greek place next to Balkan), immediately east of the dynamic and delicious Taqueria Aviles, and a block north of MT/Chinatown and all that it holds, with Cuban Sandwich Café a short blast to the south, and TAM Deli a little south of that. Right across IH 35 to the east is a branch of Rio Grande Tortillería, which is certainly no slouch, and a Filipino bakery sits cater-corner on the opposite side of IH 35. Bottom line, I was seduced away from Peace for a little while, by the Balkans, Mexicans, Cubans, and Vietnamese tempting me, but hunger pangs which set in after a film viewing finally drew me towards the light (Imitation Game, highly recommended BTW). My favorite Middle Eastern café used to be Byblos, before it closed down, and Peace reminds me of the old Byblos in many ways.

Menu, top half......

....and bottom.

The bakery lures with shelves filled with all kinds of sinful looking treats, most of which I could hazard a guess about, but really had no idea what they were. It was getting dark and all the real food action was located on the level below us, so down the ramp we went, stopping at the menu board that’s hanging on the far left of the dining area, a little inconvenient if you don’t know what you want and have to keep referring to it (hint, take a phone pic and save yourself the trouble of having to walk back and forth).  A cursory glide down the cafeteria style line to check out the offerings, and a last glance to the menu picture on my camera, and we were ready to assault the line.

a portion of the line

...and some more.

We ordered one plate of the braised lamb shank, which was rich, succulent, and falling apart tender. This is some lamb-errific meat, served on a bed of rice to capture all of the aromatic juices. We ordered that with three sides, a well-balanced and delicious roasted beet salad, and a warm braise of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, swimming in tomato sauce and olive oil. There was also a portion of the regular style of baba ghanoush, with tahini and garlic, all very delicious and authentic.

warm braised eggplant salad

I was intrigued by several offerings, especially the saffron-colored and herb crusted, rotisserie-roasedt half chickens with garlic sauce I saw a lady buying for takeout, but settled on the kebab trio, since it came with three sides, and offered a taste of several dishes at once. The three kebabs were a skewer-formed ground lamb that was juicy and well-seasoned, a marinated beef cube kebab that had great beefy flavor, and was tender and moist, and a skewer of marinated chicken cubes. Normally, chicken kebabs in Middle Eastern joints end up being dried out and tough, but these cubes melted in your mouth and excellent depth of flavor. My guess is that marinating in yogurt might have been the tenderizer. The platter was lined with shredded lettuce, shaved red onion, and thin tomato wedges, for building a wrap if you’re so inclined.

hummus and baba ghanoush with mint, peppers, and parsley

fried cauliflower

For my three sides, I got a massive hummus, topped with olive oil and green chile, which was probably the best hummus I’ve had since Byblos closed down. I also chose a style of baba ghanoush that was made with roasted peppers, parsley, and mint, that was unique from the regular style, and equally as tasty. And the final prize was fried cauliflower, served with tzatziki sauce ( I LOVE me some fried cauliflower). Pita is self-serve, but mom brought us out a basket of hot pita right out of the oven. It is fluffier, thicker, and softer than Malek’s pita at Phoenicia, and that could just be the difference between Lebanese and Palestinian baking, or the fact that Phoenicia is a big commercial baking process. Nothing against Malek’s product (I’ve enjoyed it for decades), but I did like their pita very much.

Peace pita

We tried a couple of sweets. One was a kanafa-style roll made with spun/shredded filo filled with ricotta-like cheese (with maybe some marzipan added?) and chopped pistachios, drizzled with rosewater syrup. A dozen more of those wouldn’t have disappointed me in the least. We also had a fresh, crunchy cannolo, stuffed with ricotta, flavored with orange flower water, half dipped in chocolate, and topped with sliced almonds. An excellent cannolo.

just two of the many sweets offered

I saw falafel that looked fabulous, and the shawarma was tempting as hell. The vertical roasters held chicken and beef, both made from marinated thin cuts stacked on top of the central skewer; I saw no pre-formed cone of pressed and chopped beef mixed with lamb, like you so often see. The cabbage salad with mint was intriguing, as were a lot of the other dishes on display. Unfortunately, they removed the eggplant with pomegranate, because nobody ever ordered it. Bummer. But according to rumor, they cook mansaf as a special on Fridays, with lamb 
cooked in fermented yogurt jameed broth, served with rice on a big flatbread called markook, topped with sauce, and garnished with almonds and pinenuts. That special has got my name written all over it. 

my triple kebab platter

Here’s what I discovered from my first visit. Very authentically prepared Palestinian food, cooked by very nice folks that know what they’re doing and work their asses off, and served cafeteria-style in big portions, at pretty reasonable prices, in a casual spot that‘s spotlessly clean. In my book, there’s not a whole lot more that you can ask of a restaurant. I loved my first meal there, and will return often.

Mick Vann ©

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