By: Colleen A Johnson
When Erik asked me if I would like to write for AZ Food and Wine, I was beyond thrilled with the invitation. I love to cook; but I love more to eat delicious food. I have had the good fortune of living in different parts of the US and overseas in Asia and Europe. Eating delicious authentic food is part of the mystique of vacationing or living in foreign lands. The bar is set high — I have my favorites, which most of my food is measured. I ate the best sandwich ever in an Irish pub in Dublin frequented by locals and not tourists. Hands down, the best fish-n-chips came from a small kiosk at Sydney Harbor, Australia. The most exotic burger I ate was that of alligator (and yes, it does taste like chicken!) consumed in the Kuranda forest outside of Cairns, Australia. And not to be outdone, the best ever butter schnitzel and pommes frites came from a small unassuming restaurant in Speicher, Germany. Lastly, the love affair I have with gelato is its own novella. From Venice, to Florence, to Rome, there was not a gelato shop that disappointed. Gelato officially became my three-squares the last time I visited Italy.
I prefer my food to not be Michelin-rated. I lack the bourgeois sophistication to pair wines and liquors with meats and seafood. I can’t justify spending a month’s salary on one meal. I don’t want the stress of figuring out what utensil to use of the 15 placed before me. Give me fish wrapped in newsprint and I am sated and content. I love simple, good food at modest establishments. With AZ Food and Wine I want to write about the hidden gems in our neighborhoods found in the Valley of the Sun. I will leave it to the masters of fine dining to share with us the recommendations and benefits of exquisite dining.
My first review is the Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli located on 3052 N 16th Street, Phoenix. I chose this deli/grocery combination for one reason and one reason only: lemonade! In 2009, the Phoenix New Times ranked Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli’s lemonade as the “best lemonade.” I absolutely love lemonade. My go-to drink when ordering a beverage is always lemonade. I though am usually sorely disappointed when a mixture of watered down Country Time or Crystal Light is brought to the table. Blech… That is not lemonade! Knowing there is an eatery in Phoenix boasting of a number one ranking for lemonade, I had to see for myself if it truly is worthy of being called number one.
My young friend and foodie, Bethany accompanied me to critique and evaluate the lemonade at Middle Eastern Bakery. The place is a quaint little market stocked with Middle Eastern foods and spices, a limited amount of tables for dining in, and a fairly large glass display case housing delectable baked goods such as baklava and falafel, as well as cheeses, olives and salads. I ordered both of us a large Greek salad, split between the two of us and lemonades for each. We sat down at the table and were served our food and drink, and so began our epic journey indulging in what quickly became “the nectar of the gods.”
Removing the plastic cap from the Styrofoam cup, the lemonade lacked any aroma; yet, it had a beautiful light amber glow and was void of any pulp. The moment of truth was taking a sip and filling our mouths with what was the most delicious balance of flowery, sweet, yet lightly hinted lemon elixir. The infusion of rosewater and honey burst a smooth yet delicate flavor to our taste buds. There was no latent aftertaste, tartness or bitterness with each sip. More importantly, this little luxury served as a trou normand with our meal.
The Greek salad was incredibly flavorsome. Each piece of lettuce and vegetable was crisp, clean and laced with just the right amount of tangy dressing. The salad came with a soft, warm homemade pita. Bethany, who has food allergies and sensitivities, was unable to eat the pita, but the owner warmed up a gluten-free pita for her at no extra charge. This pita was as soft in texture and delicious as the original. Both of us ripped our pitas and dunked them into the pools of dressing left from the salad. So how did our lemonade act as a trou normand? Well, after taking several bites of the salad, we would sip our drinks and the combination of sweet honey rosewater flavors would cleanse our palates and prepare our taste buds to enjoy the crisp, clean flavors of the salad all over again. Drinking our lemonade was an unexpected and welcomed culinary perk.
Our shared lunch at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli was less than $13. I would definitely return to sample their hot foods of lamb kebabs, tabbouleh, or baba ghanouj. However, the salad and pita were a perfect light meal for a triple digit summer day. But the purpose of going to the bakery was to confirm if the lemonade was worth the number one ranking. Wholeheartedly two of us agree that it is!