Saturday, August 9, 2014

Good Food, but No

Jerusalem Grill
3259 Wurzbach
(by Ingram Park Mall)

I had been wanting to try this place for more than a couple of years, having heard so many good things about it. But it's a little out of my normal stomping grounds, so it took me until last month to get over there. I took a friend that I don't get to see as much as I used to, since she moved to a more distant part of town. So you know how it is: once you cross Durango you may as well just keep going.*

Middle-Eastern food has been a cuisine of decreasing exoticness since the 1970s. These days, there seems to be a hummus-and-falafel stand on every third corner. This is not good news for people who don't like chickpeas (like me) but is great news for people who like the blend of spices, the lamb, the beef and the soft breads (again, like me) that are the hallmark of kitchens across that part of the world.

This restaurant inhabits an unprepossessing back corner of an undistinguished strip center just across the road from the back of Ingram Mall. There are a few tables outside (empty, of course, during summer noontimes); inside the space is in an L-shape, with the shorter end occupied by what looked like a buffet line, the larger end by the dining room. We were seated at a table by a glass wall and brought water, napkins, utensils and menus immediately. Naturally, there was a television set on a nearby wall, and equally naturally, it was showing a World Cup match that had been played earlier. Within a very few minutes, we had settled on the mixed grill kebab plate (chicken, lamb, beef) for my friend, the lamb gyro plate for me. The waiter returned to take our order.

I don't know if he had as much trouble understanding me as I had understanding him; his accent was pronounced but I don't think it was impenetrable, except that he seemed to mumble, allowing me to only catch one word in four. Reminded me of the Low-Talker episode of Seinfeld. We placed our order and he went away, apparently satisfied. A minute later another waiter appeared and asked to take our order. He said something I didn't catch and gestured toward the buffet area, where the first waiter was busiy being busy, and then asked again what we would like. So we ordered again. At least the second waiter was generally much easier to understand, but while we were eating he seemed to look around the dining room and glower, not just at us, but at other tables as well. It was a little uncomfortable.

Last city inspection: February 2014
two perfect ratings in a row!

What does that mean?
The food came not as quickly as we would have expected. It took long enough for several other tables to order and get their food ahead of us, and for the conversation at our table to run down to a trickle; but not long enough that we began to worry about it.  Both plates were piled high with rice and meat, some seasoned onions and other veggies on the side, and a nice serving of delicious soft bread. The seasonings of the meats (I tried her beef as well as my lamb), the creamy tzatziki sauce (I know, there are Arabic and Turkish and Persian names for yoghurt-and-cucumber sauce too, but it's close enough to the same stuff) and the vegetables were delicious, and everything was cooked well. But I couldn't say that it was better than I'd have gotten at any of the other decent Middle-Eastern restaurants in town. Maybe it's that expectations were inflated after all the glowing raves on the restaurant's Urbanspoon page. Still, I give it an extra half-chili rating just because everything was of that quality. (Usually there is something not quite up to standard.)

So to sum up: yeah, if I'm in that part of town I might go back. But I doubt it.
Jerusalem Grill on Urbanspoon

*For this attitude I should thank, or at least acknowledge, Steve, who lives in New York. Years ago he showed up at my apartment in Austin (on moving day, as it happened) and said that he had been to visit a cousin in Cleveland, and, well, as long as he was in the neighbourhood....

Monday, July 7, 2014

Just Gotta Wonder

Original Donut Shop
3307 Fredericksburg
(at Babcock)

In the seamy section of Fredericksburg Road between Hildebrand and Loop 410, there are relatively few decent taco houses; surprising in this town. I can only think of two, one at each end of that strip of road (though there is one other, in between, that I haven't yet tried). And unlike almost every place in the country north of Waco and Ponchatoula, we don't find donut shops in every strip-center around here. Maybe, then, it's the novelty of a donut shop, and the relative novelty of tacos in that area, that keep this neighbourhood taco house going. Whatever it is, it's worked for decades. It sure ain't the food.

I've tried the food here half a dozen times over the past twenty years. Today probably marks not my last visit, but the experience has been sufficiently consistent over all those visits to write now with some confidence.

Today, for the first time, I tried the donuts. (To be honest, I never before realized that they actually sold donuts; I've always come in from the Babcock Road side, and never before noticed the small donut-shop area at the other end; or if I did, I'd forgotten about it.) The donuts were good, not spectacular: better than HEB, but more expensive; not as good as Shipley's, but cheaper. The variety on offer is substantial, with something to surely satisfy whatever craving your sweet tooth has. Enough said about that.

The taquería side of the business is poorly laid out. The food is set out in steamer tables, and the line to order at the register forms in front of those tables. When your food is ready, they call your number and you collect your tray from the counter over the steamer table. The coffee dispenser is there too, though the sugar and creamer supplies are kept to the left of the register, and napkins and eating utensils are at the other end of the counter. This arrangement guarantees that everybody will be in everybody else's way at least twice, possibly three times. More if you decide to get a refill on coffee.

What's that mean?
Last city inspection: January 2014
14 demerits
The coffee was, to us, not worth a refill. It took double doses of creamer, and a packet of salt, to make that bitter, acidic brew palatable. How the coffee attained that level of unpleasantness without also being Starbucks-strong is beyond me.

I ordered a potato and egg taco and a bacon and egg taco, both on corn tortillas. My friend Rick (now on occasion known to me as Sidekick Max, after a movie character) went for a couple of beef fajita tacos on wheat tortillas. In both cases the tortillas were well-made, and held together fairly well.  Rick was happy enough with his meal, and had nothing to complain of in it. He rates them at two and a half chili peppers -- ordinary.

My bacon and egg taco was a disappointment. It was overly salty, there wasn't much bacon in it, and the eggs were way too dry to be pleasing. That happens when they sit in a steamer table for who knows how long. The same eggs were used in the potato-and-egg taco, but in that taco the big chunks of potato (which had only improved from the long steaming) imparted enough moisture to make the overall texture much more pleasant, and the addition of a little fair-quality red salsa gave the taco a little flavour.

Otherwise, the place is good enough: the dining room is fairly clean despite a constant turnouver, though the hard-tile floor made it impossible to find a table that didn't wobble with every touch. If you keep your foot on the table-leg, it'll hold still.
Original Donut Shop on Urbanspoon