The old Jerusalem Café (235 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, 513-784-0144) was a bit of a hole in the wall, but it has some mythical qualities. Several of my friends get all misty-eyed when they share memories of the previous owners’ spinach and lentil soup or going behind the counter to change the fluorescent bulb above the prep area on every visit.
The new owner, Kaly Avwy, has spiffed the place up a bit and changed from a buffet-style venue to a sit-down dining experience. The dining room is bright with lots of wood and a hookah shelf. It even has free WiFi now. Best of all, the food is really good. My lunch partner said in almost a whisper that she thought it was better than Andy’s Mediterranean.
We were pretty happy with almost all our dishes the day we stopped for a working lunch. We started with a Jerusalem Plate ($7.25/small), which consisted of hummus, baba ghanoush, several falafel balls and a salad.
The hummus was lighter in shade than any I had seen and extra creamy with tahini. It didn’t have much garlic or lemon flavor, but the baba filled this void. The falafels were crunchy on the outside and moist inside.
We also got a cup of the lentil soup ($2.25) to see how it stood up to my friend’s memory of the other. She was pleasantly surprised with the bright yellow hue and bright flavors.
For an entrée I got the beef shawarma sandwich ($4.95/half and $8.25/whole) with the tahini sauce. A half is a whole pita; the whole is actually two. My friend ordered the Lamb Shish Kabob entrée ($13.95). My sandwich was peppery and smoky in flavor. The person I spoke with on follow-up said that the shawarma is flavored with a 10-spice mixture that includes black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. My friend’s entrée was less successful. While she noted that the café was generous in its portion size of the lamb, she said “maybe they were used to serving it to sheep herders with stronger teeth” as she tugged to take a bite.
The rice was very good, however, laced with turamic and a hint of cinnamon. It reminded me of the way my mom served us rice when we were kids.
We finished with a to-go order of baklava (two pieces for $1.99) that was pretty dry and flavorless, but all in all I’d say the new Jerusalem Café can stand up to it original’s mythical status.
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