Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Middle Eastern specialties rise above the rest

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Tabbouleh salad is a standout dish at Pyramid Land.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Tabbouleh salad is a standout dish at Pyramid Land. Photo Store

Whatever the spelling -- shwarma, schwarma, shawarma, or (as at Pyramid Land) shawerma -- it usually means slices of marinated meats stacked on a rotating vertical spit, with slices shaved from the outside and served either in a pita or as part of a platter. And if you're lucky it will have been made from scratch by the restaurant, instead of in some food-processing factory.

Some of the commercial products aren't bad, especially when disguised by veggies, sauces and the quality and freshness of the pitas they are rolled in, but until recently, the only one I'd found that was made in-house was at Best Pizza & Donair where, if it's beef, it's called donair, if chicken, shawarma.

Now I've found another, at Pyramid Land, a spare but spacious place which has the added attraction of full table service (you won't have to place your order at a counter). It is owned by three partners, who were all professionals in other areas in their homelands -- Ashrat Soliman, a doctor from Egypt; Maged Belatus, a veterinarian from Egypt; and Nezar Abdulahad, an engineer from Syria -- who all pitch in with the cooking here.

It was a photograph of their shawerma that made me choose to review this place over other relatively new Middle Eastern restaurants. What it showed was a spit packed with slightly irregular slices of succulent-looking meats that couldn't possibly have come from a processing plant, and I knew this was the one I wanted to try.

It consists of both lamb and beef, and although the rotisserie was visible on the counter, our slices had been pre-sliced and reheated in the kitchen, but were so moist and flavourful it's hard to imagine they could have been much better if freshly sliced.

Another equally terrific choice was the grilled, hot dog-shaped kebabs, made of ground beef that was fragrant with a mixture of spices, with cumin predominating.

The meats (all halal) are served either in pitas, which are listed as sandwiches ($6.50 for eight inches, $8.50 for 12) or on platters ($11.99 each), but I'd recommend the platters. The shawerma comes with pale, frozen-tasting fries and a bland salad, but the kebabs are garnished with grilled tomatoes and onions and there's no problem in asking for them as a substitute.

The menu is limited, and not everything on it is available. A mixed grill, for instance offers two kebabs, two shish kebabs and two pieces of grilled chicken ($19.99). The shish kebabs, however, are no longer made, and what you get instead are three ground beef kebabs and three pieces of the chicken marinated in spices and yogurt so juicy and full of flavour they ought to have their own listing. The quality of the marinated chicken made the chicken shawerma sandwich a puzzling disappointment. The sandwich was made with a stale pita rolled around small chunks of tasty but dry chicken, with only a few salad veggies and no sauce at all. A drizzle of tahini might have made some difference.

There are some delicious non-meat dishes, as well (most from $3.99 to $6.99). The tabbouleh salad of parsley, onions, tomatoes and bulgur wheat grains in a delicate lemon juice and olive oil dressing was one of the best I can remember, with less bulgur than some, but in perfect balance for my taste. It was a far better choice than the fattoush, which was a simple tossed salad with only a few pieces of fried pita for crispness.

The rich, velvety hummus, however, is a must, lightened by just the right amounts of tahini, garlic and lemon juice. The cumin-scented falafel were exceptional on one visit -- beautifully spiced, crispy on the outside and fluffy and moist within. On another try they were less fluffy, but still good.

This is one of the few places to find fooul, pronounced fool (the full -- no pun intended -- name is fooul mudammes, often spelled ful medames). It does turn up on a few other menus (mostly Ethiopian) but usually only at breakfast. Here, the soul-satisfying mixture of fava beans mashed up with onions, tomatoes and spices, served with pita and pink pickled turnips ($3.99), is available all day.

There are pizza-like manakeesh, a puffy dough topped by zaatar (mixed spices, including the tangy and slightly citrusy sumac), cheese or -- my own delicious choice -- with spinach leaves, onions, garlic and a sprinkling of olive oil ($3.99 to $5.99 for 10 inches). The regular pizzas are pretty good, too, made with what tastes like the same dough as the manakeesh (from $5.99 for 12 inches with cheese to $19.99 for 16 inches with a variety of toppings, shawerma among them). The menu also offers such Canadiana as chicken fingers, hamburgers, poutine, fried chicken and pasta with tomato sauce.

There are no desserts, but the Turkish coffee is great ($2.60). The service was warm and gracious, but the timing is hard to predict, since there were few other customers.

Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Delivery up to 12 kilometres for $2.75.

 

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2013 C5

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Updated on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 9:21 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline, adds map

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