I'm not confused. Contrary to how it might appear, I'm not stricken with indecision. This is my second time here and I know exactly what


Lamb Junkie: Powerless to Resist at Mawadda Cafe

I'm not confused. Contrary to how it might appear, I'm not stricken with indecision. This is my second time here and I know exactly what I want. But standing slack-jawed and stupid before the overblown menu with its pictures of shawarma and kabob and rice tinted an unnatural, atomic yellow by the sun, I am momentarily stunned by the smell of the tiny, bunker-ish kitchen in the center of the restaurant. I'm light-headed from it; a little bit high on the combined odors of garlic and marinade, fresh pita, hummus and oil, red onions under the blade of a kitchen knife, smoke from the broiler and a million competing spices. My eyes flutter as I breathe in this shifting instant, then the next: an entire history of men and cuisine and motion told in a breath of cumin, turmeric, cardamom and char.

I want gyros--beautiful, thin-cut slabs of spiced lamb, ground and compressed, crisp around the edges and tasting of a dozen spices. I want a plate of gyros as big as my head and a bucket of Al-Jebori's creamy garlic sauce on the side. I'd had the gyros here a couple days ago and, after getting my first taste, had crouched over the plate like some kind of feral creature--golum on a gyros kick--picking them up with my fingers, folding them into torn bits of pita and eating them with a fixity of attention generally reserved for far less public displays of love and hunger. This time through, I have told myself that I need to order more--to order differently, to get a sense of the depth and breadth of Mawadda's menu: shawarma, kebab, maybe a little falafel (because it is supposed to be so good--the best in the state), a slice of baklava from the tray of it under glass, bleeding oil and honey onto wax paper. The lamb kabobs look really good. There is tzatziki sauce, just made, sitting out on the cutting board. Al-Jebori waits with a serene patience and half a smile on his face.

"Gyros plate," I say. "Number 13. With an extra side of garlic sauce."


This week's review is of Mawadda Cafe, Rami Al-Jebori's tiny Mediterranean cafe over in Hillman City. And as you can probably tell from the above excerpt, it's a good one. Over the course of my meals there, I became way too fond of Al-Jebori's gyros--nearly perfect slabs of pressed meat, crisp and juicy and meaty and delicately spiced all at the same time. They might well have been the best gyros I'd ever had, but it was honestly a little difficult for me to tell because I was eating them so fast.

Regardless, I went totally cuckoo for these gyros, managing (against my own better judgment and the requirements of this job) to order them every single time I walked into the place, and then using the fact that I was only eating gyros as an excuse to go back again. At which point I would order more gyros.

It was a vicious, though delicious, cycle. And you can see the results of it just as soon as the papers hit the stand tomorrow morning.

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