Pita Accord

The other other can't-miss (I know, I'm raving) are the grape leaves, handmade plump bundles of lemony rice as tender as custard. They're served hot here, and everyone who tried them was amazed with how silky they are. Grape leaves are available as an appetizer for $2.99, or as a lunch plate for $4.99. Sharp eyes will have noticed how much of the menu is vegetarian and even vegan: I'd definitely put Sinbad on my list of Top 10 restaurants for vegetarians: Put a quartet of appetizers on the table along with cup of hot tea full of fresh mint leaves (75 cents) or a thick Turkish coffee ($1.99) and you've got one of the best--and cheapest--vegetarian restaurant meals that I know of in town.

The more elaborate entrées were also very good: My favorite was the silky "Sheik El-Mashi" ($6.99), a cinnamon-scented stew of eggplant, ground lamb, ground beef, and onions in a tomato base, it was intense and terrifically flavorful, like the best part of the Greek dish pastitsio, without the unnecessary interference of cheese. I also liked the couscous topped with another tomato-based, but completely different, stew: Big chunks of potatoes, pieces of carrot, onions, stewed tomatoes, and lots of chickpeas either on its own or with lamb or chicken. It's slightly sweet and nicely balanced, and one night our ever-friendly server even made the dome of couscous it comes with into a smiley face, with cucumber and tomato slices, for a young companion. (The couscous is $5.99 vegetarian, or $6.99 with meat.)

The only thing I had at Sinbad that I didn't love was the roast lamb specials: The lamb shank--which has got to be the cheapest on earth, at $4.99 with rice, pita, and salad--struck me as gamy, fatty, and underseasoned. And the special roast lamb plate ($9.99) was dry, again underseasoned, and generally unlovely.

Teddy Maki

Location Info

Map

Sinbad's Cafe and Market

2528 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55404-4248

Category: Restaurant > Buffet

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Shwarma or gyros meat isn't a personal favorite of mine in any situation, but even I could see that it was served nicely crisped, and that the shwarma plate ($6.99) was an incredible bargain boasting vast quantities of meat tumbling over rice with plenty of onions, salad, and pita. The sandwich portion, ($3.99) seems to be more popular, but a gyros-loving friend of mine says that's because people don't know any better. He says the insider move is to order the gyros plate with a side order of the cucumber-yogurt-mint salad ($1.99) and share it with another luncher.

As an added benefit, this allows you to save your pennies for desserts, since the baklava, bird's nests, phyllo-fingers, and all sorts of other nut-, phyllo-, and honey-based sweets are made on the premises (prices range from 59 cents to $1.25). I was raised on Greek-style baklava, in which the height of the pastry far outpaces the depth of the nuts, and it's interesting to have Sinbad's version for comparison. Here both the pistachio and walnut versions are so crunchy they're more like nut-brittles adorned with pastry. From now on I'll think of this nut-generous style of baklava as Lebanese, after Anton Jermanous, Sinbad's Lebanese baker and husband to Hayat Jermanous, Sinbad's head chef.

It seems that the talented Jermanouses have won something of an international following. Sinbad owner Rasouli says that his restaurant has become famous in the far-flung Middle Eastern community for being one of the few places left that makes all its pita bread by hand: "Anton was the only person making pita by hand in Lebanon when he came over, and now this is one of the very, very few places where you can find pita made by hand, not machine," says Rasouli. "This is the ultimate pita ever. When you make it by hand, you watch the proof carefully, you know when it is the perfect time to put it in the oven. The most important thing is to control the process by human being, otherwise the pita won't come out the right way. People get off the plane from the Middle East, they come right here before they go to their relatives' house, they say even in the Middle East now you can't find handmade pita. I think it's a Bill Gates thing. Technology is speeding everything up, even pita. I don't know, maybe the breakup of Microsoft will give people the opportunity to enjoy the slowness of life, instead of running, running, running all the time, and then the only time you stop is when you have cancer or some other disease. People everywhere these days, they would rather work day and night and spill food on themselves in a drive-through, instead of having real pita."

It seems that spoiled Americans aren't the only ones taking Middle Eastern food for granted these days.

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