Covert ops are some of the trickiest parts of the job. You never know what you are going to get. This week’s mark carries us to the Middle East, and that always means I need help. Enter Special Agent 549. 549 is an expert on international cuisine, and as a world traveler is a master of disguise. I’ve never seen an agent transition so comfortably from an elaborate desert garb complete with a gigantic beard (Operation Shaggy Khani) to a clean cut get-up in Europe with white tube socks and cargo shorts (Operation Fanny Pack). So when I was handed my orders for Jerusalem Café, 549 was the obvious choice for backup.
Years of sporadic visits to Jerusalem Café have always yielded good results. I can’t say I have ever had a bad meal there, so I was excited to be entering that zone on official business. It’s in the shopping center at the corner of University and Airport that has played host to some of my favorite eateries over the years such as Al’s Hot Dogs, Orleans Po-boys, Zea’s and Nappie Award winner La Cocina. Even in some really good company, Jerusalem Café has always been the shining star. Spoiler alert: this visit was no different.
Walking through the door for dinner one night the place seemed slow. Lucky for me and 549, but I’d prefer it packed. It is of course easier for a spy to blend in. On the other hand we could expect stellar service, and we got it. The one thing I continually forget is that they don’t serve alcohol. No problem. Unsweet tea was fine.
For appetizers, 549 wanted to order conventional, but I was feeling a bit more adventurous. I knew we wanted shrimp with feta ($7.50). I will order this every time I visit this place. It isn’t often you have cubes of melted hummus, but that was exactly what this was. Each cube was atop a gorgeous medium-sized shrimp on a bed of mixed veggies.
I asked our server Hammad if he had any other suggestions for some stick-to-your-ribs appetizers and he didn’t skip a beat when he recommended hummus with gyro meat ($6.25). Served with pita, I neglected the bread in favor of forkfuls of meat slathered in hummus. Can you complain about that?
The special of the night was lamb shank ($16.95). This shank is fork tender, falling off the bone, and an amazing representation of what these guys can do. It is perfectly fine as it is, but Jerusalem Café takes it to the next level by serving it with tzatziki sauce. I resisted the urge to pick it up like a turkey leg and commence to gnawing.
With my choice of salad or soup, the lentil soup seemed like the choice for the evening. This version is a smooth puree of golden deliciousness. A decent amount of cumin allows you to smell it before it gets to your table. A touch of red pepper doesn’t overpower this masterpiece. I suggest you don’t miss this one.
With a table of lamb, shrimp, hummus, lentils, and veggies, the logical progression would be chicken for our Special Agent. Tawook Mashwi ($16.45) was the best dish of the evening. A Cornish hen (my favorite) was seasoned beautifully and as tender as one could imagine without being overdone. This is on the regular menu and deserves to be part of my regular diet. I’m paying, so 549 was willing to give me a sample of a wing and a thigh. Served with a really smooth aioli, the tangy marriage blew me away. This one came with a salad that seemed pleasant enough.
Hammad was insisting we try dessert, and I can’t leave this place without baklava ($2.50). I thought my dining companion had a wide palate. Not so. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of someone so against puff pastry. Jerusalem Café has pistachio and walnut. We were given one of each. Walnut is a normal but delicious flavor. Pistachio is a must have. This one is amazing. I have attempted to make pistachio baklava twice. I have failed twice. I can’t get the phyllo done without burning the crap out of the pistachio. Then I don’t have the money or patience to attempt it for at least 10 years. I can appreciate how good this one is. No need to go through the trouble.
If there were something negative to say about Jerusalem Café it would be that they seemed to be a one-trick-pony in the vegetable department. Everything came with zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots, cooked al dente. I enjoyed them immensely, but I would have preferred something different on at least one of our entrees. I am a huge onion fan, so maybe that is what I was missing. But you will not hear me complain too loudly. The carrots were the best part.
If I can remember on my next visit I will grab a sixer or a bottle of wine on my way over. That could have made the meal I had epic. Post meal margaritas at La Cocina satisfied my urge. It may be hard to get me across I-65, but this place is worth the trip. Special Agent 549 out ordered me, but I’m OK with that. Operation Jerusalem Café was successful. Searching for excellent cuisine. Mission accomplished.
4715 Airport Blvd.