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 inside. I've had falafel there over the years that hasn't been as good, but each little chickpea patty costs a quarter. Try a couple and see if you want more.
There are seven salads on the menu, several very similar. The Jerusalem salad is tomatoes, cucumbers, tahini and lemon; the Arabian is tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon, mint and olive oil; the Turkish leaves off the cucumbers and adds hot spices. But the Fatoush is my favorite. It's the Middle Eastern version of cornbread salad or panzanella, the Italian salad made with old bread. Here stale pita bread is fried or baked until crisp, then added to a salad of onion, tomatoes, lemon, olive oil, mint and parsley. It's good right when served, and also later (you will take food with you when you go), when the bread is softer.
There's a special most days, and I've yet to go wrong with one. Maklobah, Odetalleh said, means upside down. Meat (we had it with chicken last week, though sometimes lamb or a cut of beef is used) is cooked in the bottom of the pan, and fragrant, nutty basmati rice, seasoned with warm spices such as cinnamon and cumin, cooks on top. It's turned out, chicken on top, onto the service plate. Slivered, toasted almonds finished the dish.
Another special was a lamb vegetable stew, the only dish I tried that was ho-hum. The broth was thin, and that can be OK when it's flavorful. Here, though, it was underseasoned and flat from lack of salt, resulting in a watery broth and flavorless vegetables, though the lamb was tender and meaty.
Beef shawarma is excellent, every bite caramelized, heady with flavor, and it's served over a heaping plate of yellow rice heavily seasoned with mint. It comes with a salad of chopped tomato, onion and cucumber (which makes a nice bit of relish for the hummus).
It's a nice little place, though it closes too early for many diners and Odetalleh doesn't allow alcohol, so you can't take wine. But it makes for great takeout.
Address: 4794 Summer Ave.
Hours: Restaurant, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; store, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Reviewer’s choice: Hummus ($4.99); baba ghanoush ($4.99); Fatoush salad, ($4.50); beef shawarma plate ($9.99).
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars