The boys and I had few hours to kill in St. Paul on Saturday night., before Ice Road Camry deal, which gave me the chance to go visit a place that I’d been hearing about for a while and was dying to try, Shish on Grand Ave.
Shish calls it self a Mediterranean grill, which for me is code for Lebanese food. I love me some good Lebanese, it’s not only delicious, it’s the food that I grew up with. Some of my fondest family memories were at my Aunt’s house in Montreal, Saturday afternoon, Shabbat, when the family would gather for a feast of hummus, babaganoush, Kafta, Kibbeh, tabouli, fuul, fatoush, cheese and spinach pie, mountains of fresh pita and carafe after carafe of Turkish coffee and endless pastries from the local bakery, bak’l’awa and kunafa being my favorites.
The entire house smelled of garlic and zatar and the memories of 20 people all trying to be heard as the conversation would seamlessly slip from Arabic to French and back again, ah the memories. English BTW, was occasionally spoken as a courtesy to the few of us who couldn’t keep up in the other languages, and was always delivered with a smile like you’d give a 3 year old.
My mother, her mother and my Aunts would prep this stuff on Friday, and lay it out for the Shabbat lunch when every one in town who we were either related or married too would show up at Aunt Rachel’s for the afternoon. This food was perfect for these family gatherings since most of it was finger food, ideal for eating and socializing.
It’s been over 20 years since I last attended one of these fetes, not many of the folks who did the cooking still cook I’m guessing, and the kids have all scattered to the winds are no longer getting together for much of anything anymore. Days gone by as they say.
In the time since, I’ve never really had Lebanese food that was as good as I remembered from those family feasts. I’ve tried a few places around the Twin Cities, and never even come close to that experience. Everything missed something.
I can now say, those days are over and I have a new favorite place to eat in dear old St. Paul, Shish.
The menu at Shish sure felt familiar to me, my two boys were a bit lost. My middle kid attempted to order a gyros, I had to kick his ass. When you see gyros in a Lebanese place they’re attempting to recreate shawarma, which for some reason you can’t get here, gyros is a poor substitute. Go to Dino’s if you have eat that, here you’re getting Kafta.
We ordered the Shish Maza Mix; hummus, babaganoush, falafel, peta, tabbouili, olives and white cheese for a appetizer. I had the falafel pita, my oldest had a kafta burger and the middle kid tried the lamb kabobs.
The first bite I took was a chunk of pita with babaganoush. One mouthful and I was transported back to Aunt Rachel’s, it was perfect, the best babaganoush that I’ve had in 20 years. It had the perfect balance of charred eggplant flavor and garlic. That charred flavor is something that’s been missing in all the different versions of this Lebanese classic I’ve had. It also had the enough garlic that there was a bit of bite to the taste. Awesome.
Hummus, the real original hummus has been perverted badly by the health nut, yuppie crowd. Today I can go to any store and get red pepper hummus, garlic hummus, walnut hummus, chocolate hummus, all kinds of stuff. None of it with the simple taste of garlic and chic peas that original has. Shish serves it with a dollop of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar, a herb based spice that is used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking. Shish hit it right on.
Between the boys and I the appetizer plate didn’t last long, we were down to nothing but olive pits in minutes.
The main courses came.. my falafel sandwich was pretty good. The falafels were excellent but I missed the tahini sauce. The fries were sprinkled with zatar and were delish.
Red’s lamb kabobs were really good. Very succulent and tasty. The spices were perfect with a hint of lemon. Wonderful.
I asked the kid to save me a taste of his kafta burger. Kafta is a Lebanese specialty, ground beef with parsley and cinnamon (yes cinnamon in ground beef). Shish serves it on a bun with tomato’s and feta cheese.
OK, here’s the deal.. my Grandma, aka Nona, used to make these burgers for me when I was a kid. The last one I had was at Emily’s Lebanese Café in Nordeast MPLS. It was OK. This one.. I seriously wanted to get up and go congratulate the chef. Matter of fact, I kinda expected to see my Nona, reincarnated, standing back there cooking. It was absolutely perfect.
Nate made the comment that Lebanese food could be his favorite cuisine, which warmed my heart a bit, since he didn’t grow up with this stuff. Fact is, this food is really hard to make. Kibbe alone is damn near an all day affair. Lots of chopping, LOTS of chopping and prework. It’s intense, and I never get it right when I try, especially in the babaganoush and hummus department.
For dessert we had a couple pieces of pistachio bak’l’awa and a Turkish coffee. The difference between the Lebanese version, bak’l’awa and the more familiar Greek version, baklava, is that the Lebanese version is far superior. Heheh. Actually difference is the Lebanese don’t drench their pastries with gallons of honey, it’s not as sweet as the Greek version. Personally I think it tastes better that way, but I’m biased.
Since everything else at Shish was perfect naturally the Turkish coffee was as well. Fact is, their Turkish coffee was the first cup of what I would call authentic Turkish coffee I’ve had since the last time I saw my Aunt, about 1995. What made it authentic? Cardamom. Shish serves their coffee with cardamom and lots of sugar. It was the perfect cap to a perfect meal.
BTW, prices were reasonable as well.. had to throw that in.
As you can tell, of you lasted to this far into the review, old Sank was seriously impressed with Shish and you can guarantee I’ll be back.
1668 Grand Ave