Shiraz Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shiraz counter

The last time I was at Shiraz Market it was Torterilla la Mexicana. The name is different, the cuisine has changed from Mexican to Middle Eastern, but the experience is pretty much the same.

It’s a small storefront that’s mostly store. There are shelves of Middle Eastern canned and dry goods mixed in with everyday essentials.

One one side of the shop is a counter with some refrigerated items. And behind that is a menu board displaying the few items available to order and eat at one of the rustic tables in front. There are the usual kebabs and gyros but there are a couple of more interesting items, such as the Gheymeh that I selected.

Ali Baba's Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ali Baba ext

I'm pretty sure the first puppet show I ever saw, and most likely the first theatrical production of any type, was "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," performed by a professional traveling troupe that had set up in the gymnasium of Garfield Elementary School in Moline, Ill. I was probably 8 or 9. I think we were told it was the Bil Baird Marionettes, but I doubt that was true.

I don't remember much about it except the Open Sesame line and the horribly gruesome deaths of the thieves who had boiling oil poured over them as they hid in large pottery jars. I still have nightmares. And I'm fairly certain that some of the other grisly plot lines were omitted, such as Ali's brother being quartered and the chunks left outside the thieves' den as a warning. And Ali Baba still gets top billing even though it was the slave girl Morgiana who saved the day; it was she who poured the boiling oil into the jars. (Hey, Disney: next animated princess alert!)

None of this has anything to do with Ali Baba's Deli, but you try coming up with an opening for a review after you've written more than four thousand of them.

The Halal Guys

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Halal guys plate

If you've ever been to New York City and wandered around the area of 6th Avenue and West 53d Street -- and as a tourist, there's a pretty good chance you have since it's in the area of Rockefeller Center and the corner that the New York Hilton is on -- you've undoubtedly seen an omnipresent food stand there where meats and onions are cooked on a griddle day and night and mounded in a corner of the hot surface awaiting customers.

You may have even ordered a pita sandwich there. I did, many, many years ago, on one of my early visits to the city, while attending a convention, at the Hilton, in fact, in the days before I became a food writer. It was convenient, and cheap, especially for New York, and for someone unfamiliar with the city an easy and unintimidating choice.

I'm sure at the time I thought I was experiencing real New York food.

Hubbly Bubbly Falafel Shop Downtown

Written by Scott Joseph on .

hubblybubbly sandwich

Vast improvements have been made between the opening of the first Hubbly Bubbly Falafel Shop, in College Park, and the second, in downtown Orlando. Of course, more than three and a half years passed between the two, so you'd expect a learning curve of sorts. And as I detailed in my review of the prototype shop in September of 2013, up was really the only way to go.

I haven't been back to the Edgewater Drive location since then, but I'll assume they've made the changes that made the falafel sandwich I had at the new location so enjoyable.

And I have to say that only a week before trying the new HB, I visited my favorite falafel shop in the world, L'As du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers in Paris.

And while Hubbly's falafel sandwich doesn't quite match the culinary experience that is a l'As du Fallafel falafel -- heck, neither do any of the other falafel shops that have popped up on that small street in the Marais -- it was good enough that I can now recommend it.

Oh My Gyro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Oh My Gyro exterior

Lots of people are all aflutter about a certain New York street food vendor coming to town. We’ll talk about that soon. But if you’re one of those longing for the kind of food prepared on a street-corner griddle, Oh My Gyro might be your kind of place.

In fact, in its Facebook description, it says that it serves “authentic New York Halal Cart Food.” Halal, of course, refers to meat prepared under the strictures of Muslim law. Sort of a Muslim equivalent of kosher.

Oh My Gyro gets its name from the web shorthand of OMG, which actually means oh my god. Not sure Oh My Gyro works as an expletive, but we’ll go with it.

Yemeni Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Yemeni Kitchen table

Ramadan mubarak.

It seemed fitting to plan a visit to Yemeni Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Kissimmee, during Ramadan, the holy month observed by Muslims worldwide. The Republic of Yemen is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, and a restaurant in Central Florida dedicated to its food was a worthwhile trek.

It might seem odd to plan a visit to a Middle Eastern restaurant during Ramadan, during which one of the more well-known observances involves fasting. But that’s only from sunrise to sundown.

And that explains the handwritten note on the front door of Yemeni Kitchen announcing the start of the evening’s buffet: precisely at 8:19, the official time of sunset. And not a moment sooner.

Zora Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zora dining room

I’ve written a few times about the sixth sense that a critic develops over time, that feeling that you get when you walk into an unfamiliar restaurant and a voice in the back of your mind that says — no, screams — run!

But there’s a diametrical feeling — a seventh sense? — where you enter a restaurant and you know immediately that you’re going to like it. That’s the feeling I got when I walked into Zora Grille in Altamonte Springs recently. Just for a moment, I had that niggling feeling that something might be off. Perhaps it was the fact that the place had no customers even though it was the height of the lunch hour.

But the aromas of the charcoal grill in the back of the open kitchen soon enveloped me. And almost as immediately a young man stepped forward with a warm and genuine welcome. I took a seat.

Paramount

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Paramount falafel

Paramount Fine Foods is such a grand name for what is essentially a fast food restaurant. Quick serve at most.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s the name. I’ve also seen it refer to itself in various places at Paramount Middle Eastern Cuisine and Paramount Lebanese Kitchen.

Whatever, Paramount is a Middle Eastern eatery out of Ontario, Canada, that has recently moved into the United States with its U.S. headquarters on International Drive. A location there has been open for a while, but I stopped in to the newest store near UCF to give it a try.

Moroccan Breeze

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Moroccanbreeze exterior

Moroccan Breeze certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

I had, um, gotten wind of Breeze as a newly opened restaurant in South Orlando. But when my Google Maps app led me to the address on South Orange Blossom Trail, a strip mall anchored by the Apna Bazaar, the restaurant was nowhere in sight. I wondered if the signage on one of the eateries just hadn’t been changed to reflect new ownership. I also hoped that wasn’t the case because they looked pretty bedraggled. So I called the phone number for Moroccan Breeze and the gentleman who answered told me that he was located inside the Bazaar. So in I went.

Moroccan Breeze was located at the back of the building in a sort of minimalist food court, a couple of food vendors, including an Indian cafe next door, and a scattering of tables and chairs for customers to eat at. Just off to the side of the food court were the restrooms, designated for men and women, and prayer rooms, also so delineated.

Cedar Halal Food and Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cedar halal interior

I was sure I had happened upon a new restaurant when I walked into Cedar Halal Food and Deli in East Orlando. It was a real find, and something that was needed on the east side of town: a good, non-chain place with ethnic food. But when I was paying my bill for my lunch I asked the fellow who took the money how long the restaurant had been open.

Eight years.

So much for cutting edge. It has a Myspace page, for crying out loud.

But I’m happy I found it now, and to share the not-so-new news with those of you who were just as uninformed as I.