Al Amir, 2552 Central Avenue NE

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Al-Amir means “the prince”.

Al-Amir joins the pantheon of my Central Avenue favorites, based on food, friendliness, and sparkly table coverings. I order at the counter from a young man for whom English is a distant concept. Yet we communicate just fine. That is until later when I ask to buy a bag of pita to take home.

“Pizza? No pizza.” He gestures at the menu posted above our heads.

“No pizza. Pita!” I attempt clear articulation.

At this point a woman emerges from the back. “You need help?”

“Yes, thank you. I would like a bag of pita to take home.”

“Ah, you want bread.”

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5 of these pillowy beauties for $3.00! Review from my granddaughter, age 2: “More.”

The woman, whose name is Faduah (I think), speaks of the popularity of their Iraqi bread. She asks me if this is my first visit. When I confirmed that it is, she fries me a sambusa to take home. No charge.

“Tell your friends! All the food is wonderful!”

Dear Blog Friends, consider yourselves told.

I am the solo in-house diner, choosing a table which gives view of the door and of the counter. As noted above, the tables (there are 5) are covered with sparkly plastic, covered again by plexiglass. Any child, including yours truly, will find themselves entranced.

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I don’t like to compare because you might have a totally different experience, but in my opinion, Al-Amir trounces Holy Land. The falafel sandwich is delicious, served with hot crisp fries, on soft chewy bread. Something in the sandwich is just-right spicy and the texture of the falafel is spot on. Plus, there are pickles inside! Woot-woot!

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Yum.

The end of my planned route up Central Avenue is in sight. Next week, we will visit Chimborazo, and the following week will feature Hill Valley Cafe. There are those who are encouraging me to continue. My thought is to backtrack and check into non-restaurant businesses. This would include for example, a couple of bakeries, the Fair State brewery, maybe even the psychic. Or perhaps a visit to the psychic should come first to properly chart my course forward!

Be cool, friends. And share ideas, please!

 

Eastside Co-op, 2551 Central Avenue NE

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Happy mosaic on exterior wall

Full disclosure–I visit the Eastside Co-op at least once each week and have been a member for about a decade. However, until this week I had never purchased food from the deli, being the kind of person who tends to “cook her own” rather than do take-out. And if a meal out with a friend is on the agenda, I would lean more toward an actual restaurant than a deli.

Eastside underwent a major rebuild and renovation maybe three years ago. It was transformed from an old-school co-op to more of a Whole Foods-type set up. Initially I was unthrilled by the change. Now I am resigned, and in some respects appreciative of the care shown in the design and layout.

On to lunch. The deli has a made-to-order menu, hot and cold buffet/salad options, as well as pre-made salads, sandwiches, and desserts. I opt for the black bean burger with chips and pickles. The alternative side option, hummus and carrots, sounds a bit too healthy to suit my wild and crazy mood. For dessert I select a slice of raspberry bundt cake with vanilla icing. (I CANNOT think or write the word “bundt” without hearing the My Big Fat Greek Wedding version, accompanied by the perplexity inspired by a cake with a hole in the middle.)

The burger is above average, with a pleasant beany flavor, served on a toasted whole wheat bun with chipotle mayo. The accompanying chips and pickle are inoffensive. The cake is dense and flavorful. It takes me a bit to identify the spice used, but eventually I land on nutmeg, which I probably wouldn’t use my myself but then again, it was generally pretty good.

While the  deli is located in the far back corner of the store, the eating area is near the entrance. where there is also a coffee and snack area. The lighting and sound level are good, and the chairs and tables comfortable enough to sit for awhile and people watch.

I don’t take pics in the dining area as a number of the tables are in use, and it seems pretty creepy to be photographing people at fairly close range. Even I have my limits. The crowd is diverse, trending young, with a very high level of device usage. At one count, of the nine total diners/loiterers: a solo eats and studies with a pile of books and an often-checked phone, one couple and three singles sip beverages and nibble snacks while being engrossed on laptops or notebooks, a pair of women converse intently, and a group of three eat while making awkward conversation, interspersed with phone checks. I, of course, devote my time to eating, spying and jotting notes. Ah. The joys of Wednesday lunch.

Until next week from Al Amir Bakery, which appears to also sell food. We shall see…

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On another topic, what’s the deal with this stoplight?!

 

Holy Land Deli, 2513 Central Avenue NE

unknown1.jpegAfter a two-week vacation hiatus, the blog is back. A Huge Thank You to the three people who said they missed the postings (one of whom was my only-begotten son). Ha! I don’t do this for the glory, my friends. It just makes me happy.

I fell in love with falafel on the streets of Jerusalem, where it is the ubiquitous street food, often served with French fries and pickles stuffed into the pita. However, falafel is a food eaten across the Middle East, enjoyed by folks of all traditions and ethnicities. And small wonder. It is delicious, nutritious and inexpensive. Win, win, win!

img_3419.jpgHoly Land is an institution in NE Minneapolis, as an eat-in or take-out deli, grocery store, and bakery. It is owned by a  Jordanian gentleman, and has expanded to an additional location in the Mid-Town Market on Lake Street. The Central Avenue location grocery is my go-to destination for freshly baked pita bread, and all manner of Middle Eastern ingredients. It’s an overall good-energy kind of place.

Today I am lunching with long-time friend Judy. She orders the falefel salad, I order the falafel sandwich. The falafel balls are crunchy and tasty, as they should be, and the bread is fresh.

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Judy’s salad. She had already eaten half, so we covered that part with the pita. I had already demolished my sandwich, so no pic was possible.

Judy and I have some catching up to do, so this report is lacking in atmospherics and overheard conversations (alas, my fav!). I can share that the clientele is diverse. During our meal a woman, perhaps Mama Fatima herself, stops by our table with a gratis dessert for us to share–two marshmallows stuffed with fruit jam and a piece of honey cake. How nice was that! And they are yummy.

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Our free dessert!

As I finish editing this is, it is Sunday afternoon at 4:45, and I am craving more Holy Land falafel. Should I drive over there for a take-out dinner, or should I be a good girl and eat the left over pasta primavera in my fridge?

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The wall art is pleasant and appropriate.

Next week’s blog will explore the deli at the Eastside Co-op. Until then, consider this quote from novelist Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well.”

Sabor Latino, 2505 Central Avenue NE

My meager Spanish is clearly not up to the task of ordering at Sabor Latino. The menu is in Spanish, the kind server speaks little English. So I end up eating an anatomically intact fish with MANY bones. This presents a gastronomic challenge on several levels!

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As you can see by the photo, the mystery fish, which my daughter subsequently suggested may have been caught in Lake Harriet, is accompanied by fried plantain, beans, and rice. With the addition of a spicy green sauce, it all tastes pretty good. “Sabor”means flavor or taste, from the same root as “savor” and I’ll give a thumbs up the the flavors. However, my fish-related queasiness casts a bit of a pall over the dining experience.

By noon the place is hopping with diners, most of whom seem to know each other. Many happy greetings are exchanged, all in Spanish, so my ability to communicate and listen in is foiled. The space is long and narrow, with the kitchen area on one side, where there is also a counter for take out orders. Beer is available.

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The view from my booth. Door on left is the restroom.

The biggest excitement comes courtesy of two little girls, ages around 4 and 6, who lock themselves in the restroom. Their dad, realizing their dilemma, stands at the door, attempting, or so I imagine (again the language barrier) to coach them on how to deal with lock. After maybe 5 minutes, during which the father’s mounting frustration is apparent, the door opens and the girls emerge, smiling as if nothing adverse had occurred. Dad commences to address them in a tone suggestive of a gentle lecture on the dangers of locking oneself in a restroom without the requisite skills to complete the unlocking procedure.

Directly above the restroom door is a large television tuned to Telemundo coverage of the world soccer tournament. No game was in progress, but I am treated to many scenes of celebrating fans, mariachi bands, and dancers, which are interspersed with the ubiquitous trio of commentators common to all sports broadcasts.

After lunch I head next door to Holy Land Deli, the site of our next dining adventure, to pick up some of their marvelous fresh pita from which I will construct pita pizza for a family dinner this evening.

Will I return to Sabor Latino? Probably not. Would I discourage you from dining there? Definitely not. Just bring your favorite interpreter and contemplate the wonders of living in a community with such marvelous diversity!

Sen Yai Sen Lek, 2422 Central Avenue NE

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Sen Yai Sen Lek means “Big Noodle, Little Noodle”. Cute. My personal noodle envisioned lunch at Costa Blanca Bistro, the next dining enterprise as we head up Central. But no. A sign on the door informs me that they open at 4 p.m. So much for lunch there! Fortunately, about 10 steps north one walks into the inviting atmosphere of Sen Yai Sen Lek. We (yes, for the first time on this adventure I have a lunching partner, long-time friend and former neighbor Janet who defected to the Pacific Northwest nearly a decade ago) choose the high-top table by a large window fully open to the sidewalk.

Open air dining at its best.

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Janet waits for lunch. Note my bag on the right. Mid-meal I rescue it from an elbow-induced near-fall out the window.

Our server told of us the lunch menu. For $12.99 one can order from a selection of Thai dishes. The special includes a choice of teas or Thai Iced Coffee. Easy choice on the beverage. If you haven’t had Thai Iced Coffee, as much as I cringe at the “bucket list”
concept, add this to yours. All the lunch menu items are available with a tofu option, and heat level warnings are included. Janet selects the Pad Pad Taohoo (vegetables and tofu), and I choose Pad Bai Gra Pow, never before having eaten a Thai dish topped with a fried egg. Both are excellent. And I need to give props to the server, who is conspicuously gracious and helpful.

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Pad Bai Gro Pow, with a crisp egg drooping over tofu, green beans, onions, chilies, and holy basil. Spicy good!

Sen Yai Sen Lek fills up with a diverse crowd of diners as the noon hour approaches and passes. This being my first accompanied “blog lunch” I observe that I observe less of the atmosphere and people. What one gains from the great pleasure of dining with a friend, one loses in present-moment awareness of surroundings.

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Street view from the window seat. Khao Hom Thai is just kitty-corner across Central.

Towards the end of the meal, my work phone rings with a call to immediate duty for support to a hospice family whose loved one had just died. Over my years of providing spiritual counseling to hospice patients and their families,  many people have commented on how difficult or depressing such work must be. It is neither.

We are all going to die. Some will go suddenly from a heart attack or stroke, others will linger with dementia or another debilitating disease, some will “battle” cancer. The choice is ours only insofar as we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually while we still have time. Hospice teams make it possible for people to pass with dignity and comfort. Their families have the support to help them come to terms with the reality that is facing their loved one, and also assistance in the tremendously challenging job of caregiving. I love being involved in this respectful process, and am humbled by the trust people show as we are invited into their homes and their lives.

One thing I have learned–joy cannot co-exist with fear.

Until next week from Sabor Latino!

 

El Taco Riendo, 2412 Central Ave. NE

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El Taco Riendo. Next door, next week, Costa Blanca Bistro.

Enroute to lunch, I am stopped at a light behind an oversized all-black pickup with out-of-state vanity plates. The plates reads: BCUS I CN. After a minute, my brain fills the blanks. “Because I can.” Is the driver saying, for example, ‘I will run you over with my giant black pickup________________.’ You can fill in the blank. In this interpretation, the vanity plate is a statement of pure narcissistic individualism. Or is the message intended graciously, as in, ‘I will help old ladies across the street_______________.’ My intuition leads to the first interpretation, perhaps influenced by the size and darkness of the truck, but my cockeyed-optimism leads to the latter.

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Interior, with ordering area visible on the right.

El Taco Riendo features counter service offering “generous portions of Mexican Staples”. I opt for simplicity and order a cheese quesadilla. If a restaurant can do the basics well, the rest should be good. Yes? The quesadilla is huge! Like the black pickup! Only yummier! It includes a simple salad, sour cream, good guacamole, and spicy-enough salsa. The tortilla is thin and tender with crisp edges. Inside is a ton of white cheese, with cilantro and onion. I eat half and take half home. Those who read last week’s post from Khao Hom Thai may recall that I vowed to always bring my own container for leftovers. Well, I did bring one, but left it in the car, and was too lazy to run across the street. Good intentions, faulty execution.

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Tastes as good as it looks.

The atmosphere is comfortable and low-key. I sit in booth right behind two younger men, but alas, the acoustics are such that eavesdropping is impossible, a good thing if you are trying to have a private conversation near a nosy woman. From the kitchen I hear conversation and laughter. (Note: El Taco Riendo means “The Laughing Taco”). The clientele skew young and diverse. Prices are reasonable, to say the least.

Until next week, be good, BCUS U CAN!

 

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Real mini-carnations

 

 

Khao Hom Thai, 2411 Central Ave. NE

 

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The highlight of the Khao Hom Thai experience revolved around my inability to keep track of my cell phone. After being seated in a booth in the back by the gracious host/server, I scoped out the place. The space was formerly occupied by my go-to Thai place, Karta Thai, which moved about 14 blocks north on Central, meaning you will get to virtually visit in about 1 year, she says hyperbolically. While the menu looks similar, the seating has been altered with the replacement of the south wall booths by tables–increased seating capacity, decreased coziness.

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By my calculation there are a total of 3 Thai restaurants on Central. So I devise a plan–order Pad Thai, ubiquitous to Thai cuisine, at each place, thereby enabling a fair comparison.

img_3220.jpgKhao Hom Thai offers lunch specials, which include a salad. The salad arrives almost immediately. Despite containing iceberg, my pet-peeve green, it is fresh, nicely presented, and tastily dressed. I give it a qualified seal of approval. The Pad Thai with tofu is delivered after a suitable interval, also attractive, sizzling hot, and delish. However, having forgotten that Pad Thai is noodle-rich and veggie-poor, I realize that the  all-Pad Thai plan will need to be reconsidered.

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A table of 5 youngish men and 1 woman of a similar age, are seated next to my booth. Yay! I get to listen to their conversations. They are co-workers, wearing unreadable badges on lanyards. They discuss whether or not they are millennials. One of them checks Google, learning that the millennial window runs from the early 1980s to the 2000s. One of the guys terms them, “he stupidest generation”. Another guy calls millennials a “movement”. The response, “I want to disassociate myself from that movement.” Self-loathing millennials! They discuss Shark Tank, and chocolate chip cookies. These are intelligent people with a good rapport.

Back to the cell phone. The bill is modest, $12.00 including a 25% tip, and I leave with a take out carton containing another meal. (Note: Henceforth I will carry a container with me for leftovers. They are rarely recyclable or compostable.) Post-lunch I stop at the Eastside Co-op. In the co-op parking lot, I decide to check my cell. NO PHONE! Mentally retracing my steps, I realize that I left it lying on the booth seat. Fortunately, at least in this circumstance, I also have a work cell and use it to call the abandoned phone. A guy hesitantly answers and I learn that, indeed, it was left in the booth.

Upon return to the restaurant, I am greeted by the host, who raises his arms, exclaiming, “There she is!” He directs me to the man who found the phone, a member of the group of 6 upon whom I eavesdropped. They were all pleased have been part of a good deed.

Until next week from El Taco Riendo, do something dumb to make someone else feel helpful. It’ll make you happy, too!