In the heart of Brussels there's a tiny cobbled street that winds down into the expanse of the Grand Place. Both sides of the street are lined with gyro shops whose proprietors lean from the open doors and take out windows to heckle passersby for business. When you order a gyro they shave lamb from a hunk of skewered, roasting meat, throw it into a pita and send you on your way for as little as two euro. If a long night of party-until-dawn with the Belgians has you needing more than a stuffed pita, within minutes you can have a plate full of hummus, pita triangles, falafel and kabobs. Delicious and convenient.
Aside from the heavily Californicated gyro-like shop on Main Street, Boise has been noticeably missing a purveyor of Mediterranean food that dishes it up both quick and delicious. In fact, if you have a midday hankering for a waitress-free baba ghannooj experience, Mazzeh might have the city of trees market cornered.
As my visit to Mazzeh was a first I relied on the recommendation of the smiling woman behind the counter. Telling me gyros were the restaurant's specialty she rang me up and at my request added baklava to my order for dessert.
I chose a small table from which I could inspect the menu and plot future lunch choices. Upon menu perusal I immediately wished I'd scrutinized the menu more closely before ordering as I realized what I was missing: homestyle lentil soup, falafel, kabobs, basmati rice and an especially enticing platter of oven-baked kaftka (beef mixed with onions and spices that has been baked with tomato sauce and potato slices on top). Mazzeh also brews Turkish coffee by the pot or by the cup and I decided that even if the gyro was a bust, a return trip for coffee and baklava would be necessary.
When my food arrived, I was surprised by how short the wait had been considering the nearly full dining room. As I looked at the other customers whose tables appeared to be foodless, I realized they had the contented look of people who had finished a good meal and were hanging out finishing good conversation. A sign of a good meal to come for myself, I decided.
Without hesitation I started with hummus, slathering a large scoop of crushed garbanzo beans onto a limp slice of pita. I'm not sure if it's traditional to serve pita warm, but I do like it that way and my first opinion about the pita on my plate was that it had been sitting in a Tupperware container ready to serve for the better part of the day. The hummus wasn't bad, but it was a little soupier than I prefer and a little on the bland side--even for hummus. I found the gyro to be about the same: tasty, but a little bland. The special sauce (tzatziki-esque) was a little heavy-handed but the lamb was well proportioned, though obviously not freshly shaved from a slow-roasting skewer. I finished everything on my plate save for a little hummus and half a pita triangle before diving into my baklava without much grace. Though I do love gooey, sickly-sweet baklava, this was more phylo than filling and I actually appreciated not risking a toothache to finish it.
So what's the score? I was not entirely enthusiastic about the hummus, and I think the house may have better recipes up its sleeve than the gyro, which they claim to be their specialty. I know I will be returning to find out.
--Rachael Daigle dips her doughnuts in ranch dressing.