By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Sometimes lentil soup reminds me of my mother preparing dried pea soup mix from a box, which tasted like green chalk. One of my first exposures to a more exotic soup was at a Middle Eastern place in Manhattan in the early '70s, where I dared to try the lemon tripe soup. It was enchanting. A few years later, I had my first bowl of menudo...and couldn't handle it. But having had many bowls of menudo here in Denver, I now crave it. I had three bowls of Phoenician Kabob's lentil soup spaced down the table, so that everyone could use their boardinghouse reach. (We would have to overlook the inevitable double dipping that took place.) And, as advertised, the lentil soup was among the best of the many menu items we sampled. The lentils were partly puréed, giving a lovely smooth texture to the soup, and the cumin scenting it was divine.
Perhaps as a nod to the size of our party, the owners sent over a plate of grape leaves, succulent little bundles. The fouel mudammas was another home run. At first I thought the fava beans were garbanzos; they'd been lightly smashed, altering their usual, more lima-bean-like shape. The resulting texture was a mouthful of delight. The best hummus I ever ate was made by an Egyptian guest in my home who offered it up as party fare; no hummus before or since has held a garbanzo to it. And that includes Phoenician Kabob's hummus, which was rather dense and not distinctively flavored. The kibbeh, too, lacked the spiciness I expected (and desired), although it was luxuriously dark brown and served good and hot. The pita that came with the appetizers was delicate and soft when it arrived, but stiffened within minutes as it cooled. (There must be a way to keep it warm longer.)
The Chef's Lamb Kabob plate (my entree) was another mixed bag: The lamb was deeply flavorful, though cooked more than I had requested. The platter came with hummus, a pile of dry basmati rice (topped with sumac), tabouleh (which I'd thought was only okay, then revised to very nice when I had the leftovers for dinner) and mind-blowing thum — a dip of 99 percent garlic with a hint of lemon, olive oil and a touch of egg white. It looked for all the world like a little bowl of Greek yogurt, snow white and with a sour cream texture, but the thwack of garlic popped on your tongue. "If you slathered a baseball with that garlic paste, I would eat it," said one FEDUP.
5709 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220
Region: East Denver
Like the lamb, the chicken shawarma suffered from being served at room temperature. At home, I am very fussy about our food being hot when we sit down; we use heated bowls or plates for anything not supposed to be served at room temp. The rice should have been kept moister and warmer, then added to a hot plate at the last second and topped with lamb from the grill or the chicken shawarma and rushed to the table. It's a challenge for a kitchen manned by only two or three to crank out entrees for ten with any expeditiousness; however, it has to be done. And the kitchen proved it could do better with the apps, which had been exquisitely prepared and came out in a single wave, after a not-too-long wait, at the perfect temperature. Our primary server was a charming young man who could not have been more attentive and efficient, and I don't think he was to blame for the not-so-warm food; he had help getting it from the kitchen.
The baklava proved a superb honeyed ending. By and large, the FEDUPs were very pleased with their meals, near ecstatic in some cases, and several were talking about coming back to try Phoenician Kabob's Denver Restaurant Week deal.
When my tummy is happy, the whole world looks better to me. As I returned to the Buick, Colfax looked a little less funky and filthy. If I'd had the resources, I might have considered sending ten of the less-than-savory-looking individuals I'd seen on Colfax into Phoenician Kabob for a meal on me. But I'd have made them feast on only apps: It's the memory of them that keeps my midsection happy.