Just plain fine fare

Good Mid­dle Eastern food served gen­er­ously

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Movies - By Jen­nifer Biggs

A reader asked whether I planned to re­view Jerusalem Mar­ket, so I searched the archives to send her the re­view I was cer­tain I would find. But I didn’t, nor did I find it when I looked un­der the names of oth­ers who might have re­viewed it in years past.

While I’ve eaten at the res­tau­rant and shopped at the mar­ket since it opened, some­how I’ve failed to re­view it. So I had a stern word with my­self, then set out to make amends.

We are all crea­tures of habit, even those of us who make a point to try new restau­rants when we go to din­ner or new recipes when we cook. I of­ten turn to Sum­mer Av­enue for quick and fa­mil­iar meals. It’s eas­ier than fight­ing traf­fic and crowds along the Po­plar cor­ri­dor, and the price is right in the string of eth­nic eater­ies (along with the Pan­cake Shop and Cen­tral BBQ) that stretch along the East Mem­phis leg of the street.

Jerusalem Mar­ket is a store with a ha­lal meat counter, a small pro­duce sec­tion, a re­frig­er­ated and freezer sec­tion, and sev­eral over­flow­ing rows of Mid­dle Eastern sta­ples such as olives, pick­les and olive oil, plus as­sorted spices, condi­ments, can­dies and deca­dent short­bread cook­ies stuffed with dates. Fresh pita bread is baked at the store daily, and each morn­ing trays of pita topped with spicy ground beef and herbs, along with toasted pita, are set out for sale for about $1 apiece.

You’ll never buy pita bread in a gro­cery store af­ter you’ve tasted it fresh-baked, and the bell on the front door of the mar­ket rings fre­quently as cus­tomers dash in just to pick up a pack of the pita, con­ve­niently lo­cated just by the reg­is­ter. You can grab a pack on the way out, as you get to the res­tau­rant through the store. There’s not much to be said for the am­bi­ence, as it’s sim­ply a row of deep ban­quettes on two walls with plain tables pulled up to them and plain chairs on the op­po­site side. Ara­bic-lan­guage tele­vi­sion broad­casts through the din­ing room (it could be one of many satel­lite chan­nels, owner Is­mal Ode­talleh, from Jor­dan, said).

It’s re­ally about the food here, which is very good and also served gen­er­ously. Ap­pe­tiz­ers are cer­tainly made to be split, and those we tried are large enough to be a meal for one. The hum­mus is near-per­fect, suf­fer­ing only a slight lack of salt (easy to fix). It’s spread across the plate in hills and dales, and deep, green-gold olive oil fills the val­leys. A spicy dol­lop of green pep­per mash adorns the cen­ter, and there’s plenty of fresh pita de­liv­ered for scoop­ing it to your mouth. A com­ple­men­tary plate of olives and sliced pick­les pro­vide a per­fect acidic bite. Want to take it higher? Add meat.

Baba ghanoush, an egg­plant and tahini spread, is also ex­cel­lent at Jerusalem Mar­ket — though like the hum­mus, it could use a touch of salt (and please, a lit­tle less than ideal is al­ways bet­ter than the ir­repara­ble too much). There’s a ten­dency to grill egg­plant to the point of smok­i­ness for baba ghanoush these days, but the cook here re­sists.

The falafel I tried most re­cently was quite good, crisp but not hard out­side, ten­der and fla­vor­ful in-

PHO­TOS BY ALAN SPEAR­MAN/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

The gen­er­ous serv­ing of hum­mus from the Jerusalem Mar­ket and Res­tau­rant has olive oil and rel­ish.

Is­mal Ode­tal­lah (left) and Jaa­far Ode­tal­lah man­age the Jerusalem Mar­ket and Res­tau­rant.

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