Update - February 17, 2017: Damascus Grill has reopened for business for lunch and dinner.
Update — 5:20 p.m., February 10, 2017: Shortly after we posted this story, the Colorado Boulevard location of Damascus Grill closed temporarily for a "remodel and cleaning," according to the restaurant. Damascus is directing its customers to the family's other location at 1399 West Littleton Boulevard. A date for the reopening of the first restaurant was not provided.
Syria was hit particularly hard by President Donald Trump's January 27 executive order banning residents of seven countries from traveling to the U.S. While the order restricts travel by citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia for ninety days, the ban is indefinite for Syrian refugees.
The current war in Syria and the ban on incoming refugees directly affects Syrian natives here in Denver, many of whom still have loved ones living in their home country. The family of Damascus Grill owner Mahmoud Kassir, who opened his restaurant at 2276 South Colorado Boulevard more than twenty years ago, has been active in Denver raising supplies and humanitarian aid for refugees abroad. His children Amal and Ousama Kassir talked about their efforts in a recent Westword video; Amal is a slam poet who's very active in Denver, not only supporting Syrian refugees (she helped lead recent protests against the travel ban), but also helping out the homeless.
The food at Damascus Grill is familiar and comforting, with grilled meats, hummus, baba ghanouj and warm pita bread anchoring the menu. But traditional Syrian specialties beyond the standard Middle Eastern repertoire make Damascus particularly worth a lunch or dinner visit. House-baked bread and a plate of hummus come with dinner service, but adding an order of fatayer — canoe-shaped bread stuffed with meats, veggies and cheeses — would be a good starting point.
The weekly special is often a homey chicken stew tinted yellow with saffron and redolent of lemon, garlic and cumin. A generous X of sumac powder atop the stew adds tangy flavor unique to Mediterranean fare. Lamb is always a good option at Damascus, too, either grilled as chops or kabobs or slow-cooked and served atop steamy long-grain rice.
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Politics may be on the back burner when you're enjoying a meal inside the timeworn Damascus Grill, but they're never far away for the Kassir family. Dining at Syrian restaurants in Denver is a simple way to share a sense of community with those hit hard by war and terror — and to say that those most in need are still welcome here, despite the opposite message being sent by our executive branch.
Slow-baked lamb with saffron rice.