Mr Foodie and I were running some errands at the Summit (read: guiltily returning some online shopping purchases) and looking for a place to have lunch afterwards. Whenever we visit an area of town, even one we’ve been to a million times, we try to find a new and interesting place to eat. A few Google, Yelp, and Urbanspoon searches revealed a brand new Isreali place on 280 that had been open for less than a week and already seemed to have a dedicated following.

Israeli food is something I grew up with as a kid in Pittsburgh. There used to be an Israeli restaurant in Birmingham but it closed a few years ago, leaving a big void in our food scene. My heart started to race… Could this be our next big foodie discovery?

Eli’s Jerusalem Grill is located in a pretty run of the mill strip mall past Target on 280 (if you’re coming from the city). They already have a nice temporary sign up:

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When you walk in, there’s a wall to your right with photos of a market in Israel to get you in the mood. As we approached the counter, a nice gentleman with a big smile gave us the menu and prepared to take our order. Here is the menu; I love the graphic design!

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And he added “everything else you need to know is here,” pointing to himself. Turns out this was Eli, the owner.

So as usual, we asked him what we should order. And then we noticed this in the background:

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This is schwarma, where meat is grilled for hours or days on a spit. They had chicken and lamb/beef; we went with the latter. Besides that, we told him we wanted to try a little bit of everything. He recommended the vegetarian plate with a side of falafel. Sold.

As we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with Eli. Originally from Israel, he lived in Chicago for many years. His dream was to open an Israeli restaurant, and when he moved to Birmingham for family a few years ago, he began perfecting some of his grandma’s recipes. The restaurant has only been open for a week, and is the only Israeli place in town. While I don’t know this for sure (correct me if I’m wrong), I believe they are the only place that does schwarma on a spit like the photo I showed. They make everything in house, even the pita, and have lots of gluten free options. All of their meat is organic and shipped in from a farm in the Carolinas daily, and they also receive daily shipments of fresh produce.

After that lead in, we were starving and ready to eat. First, the schwarma. Crispy pieces with pieces that are melt-in-your mouth tender. Fantastic.
Served with rice and Israeli salad. The salad was lemony with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions -the best I have had – it just tasted so fresh.

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Then, the veggies. All amazing. The beets stood out as they were seasoned with a little bit of cumin. The tabbouleh was totally unique-in an effort to be gluten free, Eli uses quinona rather than bulgur wheat. I really dislike the texture of bulgur wheat, so I loved this substitution. The tabouleh was bright and flavorful, the best I’ve had.

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Mr Foodie’s favorite food of all time (no exaggeration, I think) is hummus. Eli told us that this hummus was made with dried chickpeas rather than canned. This makes the texture deliciously creamy. Served with soft, thick homemade pita. Amazing.

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Then the falafel, which were light and crunchy. I’m not usually a big falafel fan but these were great-the best I’ve had, in fact. They might have converted me into a falafel believer. Shown here with homemade tahini (which had a light, delicate sesame seed flavor), a green spicy sauce (not sure what it was, didn’t use it), and the hummus.

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Now in cross section. Isn’t that gorgeous? So green!

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We weren’t really hungry for dessert but, for the sake of our readers, we indulged. Again, everything is homemade. Knafeh, which is a cake made of cheese and toasted pistachios, and light, flaky baklavah. Both fantastic.

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Eli insisted on giving us some Moroccan tea with our dessert, which I highly recommend. Tasted like a menagerie of spices. Hard to explain. Went perfectly with the sweets.

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Can’t wait to go back to test out the rest of the menu, especially the Shakshuka. This is one of only two shakshukas in town as far as I know, and I’ve already blogged about the other one! What a fantastic experience. And what a fantastic addition to our food scene!

Eli's Jerusalem Grill on Urbanspoon