1.03.2015

No Bashing on Basha's

Happy New Year, gang! Back in 2012, I tried lunch at Basha's Lebanese Grill on the Vestal Parkway and cautioned you not to bother. It was terrible. But recently, some new friends and my hair stylist Dan urged me to give it another chance, as new owners have taken the helm and have purportedly righted the ship.

Food from the Mediterranean region offers some of my favorite flavors. The tatziki of Greece, the lamb and eggplant of Israel, and the za'tar, ras al hanout and sumac spices used throughout the middle eastern and Mediterranean areas are exciting, fresh and delicious. I want more of them in my life, and Basha's has them. This may be my new favorite lunch stop in the Triple Cities.

To start off, you may want to order the mankoushe, which is a pita served flat and covered with za'tar, then baked up crispy. Basha's version is a little dry; it would be wonderful dipped in hummus or the garlic sauce I'll tell you about a little further down the page. Za'tar is a small bush that grows in the mountains of the Holy Land, and in this iteration, it is green and verdant, mixed with sesame seeds, thyme, oregano and sweet, woodsy sumac. The bread is chewy and has some crunch from the seeds - just a nice, savory start to the meal.


The lamb kabob on a pita is one of my new favorite things in all the world. Bright bursts of lemon, tomato and savory lamb pop on the tongue as you first bite down, and then sort of dissolve into the flavor of earthy hummus, which is spread inside the Lebanese flatbread. That bread is like thin, pliable pita, but a little less dry, and it managed to hold up to the sandwich ingredients without tearing or falling apart. The lamb is super tender for the short amount of time they cooked it, so I'm guessing it was marinated for a while in lemon, olive oil, oregano and other spices. Altogether, the flavors were just remarkably harmonious for a fast food sandwich - I could eat this twice a week for lunch and be happy indefinitely. The kicker had to be the lightly grilled onions and green peppers stuffed in there, the peppers lending a sharp zip to the mellow lamb and creamy hummus. 



I am really becoming more and more enamored with coffees from other cultures and less so with my Keurig. This all started, of course, in Amsterdam, with their ridiculously civilized service of dark, deep coffee with crema on top and a tiny cookie alongside, and was intensified when the hotel I stayed in in Houston in October had a Nespresso machine right in my room. Then I had Vietnamese coffee with sweetened, condensed milk in it last month, which was fabulous. So at Basha's, I just had to try the Lebanese coffee. Hoo boy! This stuff is serious business. Super strong, and served in what can only be described as a doll's tea set, the coffee was bangin'. I had to add sugar because I'm a wimp, but unadorned, this brew is thick, rich, a little bitter and wickedly delicious.


This is sexy food, y'all. I don't know if it's the lack of heavy carbs and rich cheese which makes the  meat, veggies and citrus shine so brightly, or what. But whenever I eat it, I want more.

I also want more of the chicken shawarma platter, which comes with a super crisp, colorful salad topped with an herbaceous lemon vinaigrette to make you feel less guilty about scarfing the entire cup of the other thing it comes with: garlic sauce. This uber robust, garlicky triumph will keep away vampires and is utterly delicious smeared on the thin, Lebanese-style pita with the crispy, marinated chicken. The tomatoes in the salad provide an acidic sweetness, while the rice pilaf is savory and well seasoned. The entire plate is a zesty concerto of garlic, sharpness, salt and earthiness - a world tour of flavors that adds up to why this cuisine is so vibrant and addictive.


I did my homework on the sauce, in case you were wondering. It's a marvel, but not because of its ingredients, which are simplicity itself: vegetable oil and raw garlic; sometimes a tiny bit of lemon juice. The key is a fun little word to say: emulsification. Basically, you take enormous, unreasonable amounts of oil, and force it into fresh garlic in a food processor until it becomes something....other. The sauce is fluffy and creamy, pungent yet ethereal, an absolutely dynamite elixir that is more of a spread than a sauce, and that you will want to slather on every edible surface you can root out. At the very least, dunk your fries in it.

Is it apparent I'm enamored with Basha's? Because I am. At the very same place I once threw away a $10 lunch that was so lousy it wasn't worth the calories, I now salivate over the perfectly seasoned meats and sauces. In my book and on my BHS scale, it's an eight. An eight! I never give fast food places an eight! But it's that good. Get there, try it, then thank the people who talked me into going back. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger. 

Basha's Lebanese Grill on Urbanspoon

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