JACK'S CORNER MEDITERRANEAN DELI
Corner Spring Garden and Aycock streets
Overall rating: ** 1/2
Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Reservations not accepted.
Credit cards: None
Sanitation grade: A (98)
Food: ** 1/2 - Tasty Middle Eastern
Atmosphere: ** - Small, neighborhood deli
Service: ** - Pleasant counter personnel
Value: *** - Good food at low prices
Entree prices: $2.50-$5.25
Recommended: Hommus, Hommus Bilahm, Tabouleh Salad, Baba Ghanouj, Falafel Wrap, Spanakopeta, Chicken Kabob Platter; Mamoul cookies.
``Everything is made from scratch - my Mom's recipes,' advised Jack Bishara with pride, from behind the counter.
In a few moments we met Mom, and we began to think that the pride was justified. After a few bites of several dishes, we were convinced.Jack's is a former corner grocery, refurbished to allow for limited seating after cafeteria-style selection. The decor is spartan, but pleasant and clean.
Simple, tasty Middle Eastern foods are the establishment's raison d'etre, although some American salads and sandwiches are available as well.
Sodas and fountain drinks, plus a few domestic and imported beers will wash things down. But consider Turkish coffee (75 cents) - strong and sweet - after dinner.
Hommus ($2.50) consists of mashed chick peas with tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Jack's Mom's version leans a bit more toward the chick peas than some, producing a sort of mild, nutty flavor.
Soft wedges of pita had been warmed. I prefer them grilled with a little firmer crust, but these were still good.
A variation on this, Hommus Bilahm ($5.25), added curried beef and almonds. I found the beef a bit too salty and the curry rather mild, but quite tasty nonetheless. And the texture was great!
Tabouleh Salad ($2.50) is made of clipped parsley tossed with bulgar wheat, tomato cubes, onions and mint, with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. The mint flavor was nicely evident, while the bulgar wheat lent texture.
Baked eggplant, mashed, formed the foundation for Baba Ghanouj ($3.25). This had been mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley.
In Spanakopeta (95 cents), crisp phyllo pastry enclosed a puree of spinach and onions. I loved it.
Falafel Wrap ($3.25) used crisp-fried nuggets of falafel - chick peas mashed with parsley. I really like the flavor of falafel - again, sort of nutty - and the cucumber-yogurt dressing inside the wrap of grilled pita really tied things off.
Another pita-wrapped sandwich, Gyro Platter ($4.95), pronounced ``hero,' (I heard a number of variations from customers, including geero, gyro - as in a type of helicopter - and some hard-g inventions that would never have occurred to me) used the amalgamated beef and lamb product that appears in most such sandwiches. Surprisingly, though, at Jack's it tasted better, due mainly to the fact that they didn't use much of it. The principal flavor came from the cucumber-yogurt dressing and the grilled pita.
Two-inch cubes of breast meat on a skewer made up Chicken Kabob Platter ($5.25). The meat itself was a little dry, but the flavor benefited from a sesame marinade.
A salad of shredded iceberg lettuce and feta cheese accompanied this.
The herbed oil and vinegar dressing in combination with the feta cheese, tasted great.
French fries come with this and several other platters. They were good french fries, too, of the skin on, crispy variety.
Several varieties of cookies and Middle Eastern pastries are offered for dessert. A crisp crust enclosed mashed dates, in Mamoul cookies ($1.25). I thought I detected a little rose water in the interior. Mamoul is a personal favorite.
Amardeen ($1.05) apricot roll was a very firm pastry, soaked in apricot glaze, and rolled up. I liked the flavor, but the chewy texture put me off a bit - as much a function of cultural bias as objective measure, to be honest.
I liked Jack's.
It's the sort of neighborhood place you can just drop into on the spur of the moment, feel welcome and enjoy an inexpensive meal.
That's just what a deli ought to be.
John Batchelor's restaurant reviews appear on the first four Fridays of each month in Weekend. If you have a comment about a restaurant, or want to announce an opening, personnel changes, or whatever, write to him at P.O. Box 583, Graham, NC 27253.