Last week, I wrote about a not-so-great cheesesteak. Unfortunately, I wasn't alone in having that not-so-great cheesesteak. Laura was with me, and Laura is a woman who knows from good (and not good) cheesesteaks. I was disappointed. She was even more so. And so, in advance of the recent snow squalls, we took to the road in order to secure ourselves some really good cheesesteaks. But as so often happens on these little errands, about halfway to where we intended to go, we both got hungry for something else. In this case, baklava and iskender, two Turkish delicacies that are tough to find in the area. Baklava can be gotten in a few spots, iskender in just about none. So we made for the place that offers the best baklava around: Ali Baba Grill in Golden.
From the outside, Ali Baba is a nondescript storefront operation working out of a strip mall above the city proper, flanked by a townie bar, a coffee shop, a dry cleaner and a Mexican restaurant, bright but empty at 8 p.m. on a weekday. Inside, though, Ali Baba has a great dining room, an amazing transformation from cookie-cutter retail box to Arabian Nights fantasy, complete with billowing, bright fabric hanging from the ceiling and walls covered with beautifully painted and carved doors and window shutters. It's one of those spaces that doesn't so much transport you as make you wonder what a stereotypical American restaurant must look like in the middle of downtown Lebanon.
The baklava has always been Ali Baba's big draw: huge squares of it, bleeding butter and honey from their million little flaky layers of filo and shedding crushed walnuts with every bite. But the rest of the menu is a nice lead-up to dessert. The hummus here is my hands-down favorite, sprinkled with sumac, puddled with olive oil and served with baskets of flat bread. And while I wasn't able to feed my need for iskender, I was able to get the next best thing: hummus be-shawarma, a massive pile of shaved, pressed lamb, deeply spiced and set over yet more hummus. A cup of mint tea, a pile of lamb...I was a happy man.
Happier still when I found out that not only has Ali Baba expanded its menu with a half-dozen homemade pies (spinach and cheese and mohamara and manish bizatar, for those craving a savory hit of the homeland), but the owners are opening a third address in the Landmark development in Greenwood Village, with a fingers-crossed opening scheduled for some time around the first of the year. (There's a second location at 8800 South Colorado Boulevard in Highlands Ranch.) They're also working on getting their hummus and baba ghanouj into grocery stores. But until Ali Baba starts selling its baklava at the supermarket across the street from my house, it looks like I'll still be taking a drive.