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September 26, 2006

LEO’s Eat ’n’ Blog: Jerusalem Café is feeling the harmonious vibes

One of the world’s most historic cities, Jerusalem is sacred to three major religions. It seems kind of pitiful that they’ve spent much of the last couple of millennia fighting over it.Jerusalem Café: which opened in July near U of L, is the most recent entry in Louisville’s eclectic and growing collection of Middle Eastern eateries. Photo by Robin GarrHappily, though, there doesn’t seem to be any conflict about Jerusalem Cafe, the most recent entry in Louisville’s eclectic and growing collection of Middle Eastern eateries: Just about everybody agrees it’s really good. Located in the short strip shopping center just west of the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus, Jerusalem Cafe speaks Middle Eastern with a Palestinian accent. It adds a hint of the Levant to the storefront space that used to house a branch of City Cafe, an impression not diminished by a couple of good Persian carpets spread on the white tile floor and, of course, an appetizing scent of grilling kebabs. We’ve eaten takeouts a couple of times and been considerably impressed. Baba Ganush ($3.99), a personal favorite, a sibling of hummus but with mashed eggplant replacing the chickpea puree, was as good as I ever ate, garlicky and rich with sesame tahini, accented with an enticing whiff of woodsmoke from the grill; with a couple of tender, fresh pitas for dipping. Tabouli ($3.99) got two thumbs up from my wife, who praised its abundance of fresh parsley. A falafel sandwich ($3.49) was first-rate, with two sizable rounds of crisp-fried chickpeas laced with parsley and a haunting breath of cinnamon, loaded with lettuce and tomato and, an intriguing touch, a crisp, tangy ration of Palestinian pickles to add crunch, all rolled into a good-size, tender pita. I was just as happy with a kifta kabob sandwich on pita ($3.99), loaded with rich, earthy lamb meatballs touched with exotic spice and maybe a hint of mint. I was ready to applaud, but before reviewing an eatery on the basis of takeouts alone, I invited Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent LEAH STEWART to drop by and check out the dining room. She says she’s happy, and files this report: The Foul is “fool”Sometimes things do get lost in translation, as in the apocryphal tale of the Chevrolet Nova failing to sell in Spanish-speaking countries, where “No va” means “it doesn’t go.” I first heard this story in a marketing class a couple of decades ago, but in fact it’s an urban legend. Along similar lines, it may not be great marketing to name a dish “Foul.” It’s actually pronounced “fool,” which may or may not be an improvement, but we were brave enough to order it in spite of the name.Foul ($3.99) requires a short wait, as it is made to order from a freshly made mash of fava beans, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper, served warm with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, sliced onions and pita. What’s not to like? There’s nothing foul about it.Palestinian-style basmati rice: baked chicken and artfully carved cucumbers and carrots. Photo by Robin GarrHubby chose the Shish Tawook ($5.99), which consists of cubes of chicken marinated in garlic, lemon juice and spices, then grilled. It was served with long-grain rice and the chopped cucumber and tomato salad that comes with most dishes. I enjoyed the aforementioned falafel, ground chickpeas formed into balls, fried, then wrapped in a pita with the salad. An order of hummus ($3.99) practically had us fighting for the last bite. The smooth blend of chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini and spices, served with the salad, fresh onions and drizzled with olive oil, was accompanied by a basket of grilled pita bread. I’ve noticed that a number of places that serve hummus around town have been omitting the tahini lately. I won’t name names. Do they assume the American palate doesn’t appreciate the nutty, slightly bitter taste of the ground sesame seeds? Oh well ...This is good, simple, honest, everyday food. It’s the kind of grab-and-go food typically sold by street vendors and in the outdoor markets of Jerusalem. We found Jerusalem Cafe’s dishes estimable, with fresh, clean and balanced flavors. Our dinner for two came to $20.46 before tip.Jerusalem Café1907 S. Fourth St.635-6767Falafel, it should be noted, is widely promoted as a meatless alternative to the hamburger, and it’s certainly a form of vegetarian cuisine that’s easy for carnivores to like. When I want a burger, though, I find that ersatz substitutes rarely satisfy, although the well-conceived spinach-and-walnut Spinach Veggie Burger ($7.25) at Bluegrass Brewing Co. in St. Matthews comes mighty close, offering good texture and flavor in a burger-shaped patty that satisfies best if you don’t try to think of it as a fake hamburger but simply something completely different and good.Eat ’N’ Blog contributor KIM MASSEY gave up beef a while back, but she still craves the occasional hamburger. She recently scouted the city in a quixotic quest for burgers that contain no cow meat, and survived to tell this tale: What, no beef? Jerusalem Café chef Sammy Barghouthi: who has been in the United States for about five years and in Louisville for two, cooked at Safier before opening his own restaurant this summer. Photo by Robin GarrIt’s something of a paradox, having willingly given up beef during one mad-cow motivated moment many years ago, but I still crave a good burger. This infrequent but inescapable longing for the quintessential fast food seems as hard-wired into my psyche as that of any beefeater. After consuming one Boca Burger too many, I set out on a mission to sample the beefless-burger options at a few of our popular local eateries. In the interests of a balanced review, I enlisted the help of “Mr. Meat,” a committed carnivore and worshipper of all things bovine. We started with the Black Bean Burger ($7.50) at Third Avenue Café. This bears more than a passing resemblance to a regular burger, but it tastes very much like a cup of black bean chili in solid patty form. The pleasantly spicy, grilled burger comes dressed with a tasty roasted red pepper aioli and salad and served on delicious house-made foccacia that’s a welcome departure from the standard burger bun. It was a tad crumbly, though, as the patty fell apart a little upon handling. It was a minor inconvenience on my part, but a far more serious misdemeanor for Mr. Meat, who commented rather ominously, “A good burger never falls apart!”Third Avenue Café1164 S. Third St.585-2233Fortunately, the Salmon Burger ($7.95) at Rick’s Ferrari Grill suffered no such shortcoming: It held together right up to the point of ingestion. It’s a tasty 3/4-inch-thick patty consisting of ground fresh salmon, well-seasoned breadcrumbs and a smattering of capers and dill. The savory, moist salmon saved it from the crumbly, dry texture that afflicts some non-meat burgers. Pan-fried to a pleasantly crispy outer texture, it was complemented by a slightly tangy lemon-dill mayo and salad. A perfect choice for a fish-lover like me, it also scored an impressive eight out of 10 points with my carnivorous dining pal.   Rick’s Ferrari Grill3930 Chenoweth Square893-0106  “Nuts!” offered Mr. Meat, after the first bite of the Veggie Burger ($7.25) at Bluegrass Brewing Co., astutely identifying one of the primary ingredients in the spinach-walnut-based burger. This imaginative combination results in a moist, pleasantly crunchy, if somewhat neutral-tasting burger. It was much enhanced by a generous dollop of fresh, vivid basil mayo and jack cheese. The dish certainly struck a chord with the latent vegetarian in me. Mr. Meat’s approval, however, was qualified by the fact that he would need at least two patties to achieve the feel-full factor of a single traditional burger.Bluegrass Brewing Co.3929 Shelbyville Road899-7070The Teriyaki Turkey Burger ($7.99) at Flanagan’s was an unmitigated success. “Tastes like the real thing,” Mr. Meat opined with a mixture of surprise and delight. I had to agree, and suspect this is one beefless burger that would find affection with even the most bovine-biased diner. A well-formed, juicy ground turkey patty, liberally topped with a tasty mélange of onions, peppers and mushrooms sautéed in a Teriyaki sauce, it was rich, hearty and wholly satisfying. Flanagan’s Old Ale House934 Baxter Ave.585-3700  Although I’m no fan of chain restaurants, skeptical (or perhaps gluttonous) curiosity compelled me to venture out to a recent suburban addition, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits. I selected from the “Burgerless Burger” options with a degree of cynical anticipation, but the results were actually better than I had expected. A nicely constructed Turkey Burger ($7.79) paired a juicy, slightly spicy charbroiled patty with a tasty chipotle mayo and crisp salad on a fresh, oversized sesame bun. The vegetarian-friendly Garden Burger ($7.99) consisted of an interesting combination of well-seasoned grains, vegetables and cheese. This savory patty, dressed with a slightly sharp bistro sauce served with salad on a whole-grain bun, resulted in a wholesome fast food fix. (Editor’s note: Kim escaped the brunt of this, but the foodies on the LouisvilleHotBytes.com Restaurants Forum are reporting that Red Robin appears to have become a destination dining spot for squadrons of noisy youngsters second only to Chuck E. Cheese. Those who prefer to dine in a no-children environment may wish to take note.)Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits9870 Von Allmen Court339-8616Having discovered enough beefless-burger options to satisfy any future cravings, my mission was well and truly accomplished. Mr. Meat, too, expressed an overall satisfaction with the alternatives, but as he departed, he quietly murmured something about “Jack Fry’s and the real thing” as he disappeared into the night! Contact Robin Garr at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com