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Dining out: Mazza

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Though I imagine it is a fine place to eat any other time of year, late fall is a particularly good time to visit Mazza.

This intimate little space near the corner of 1500 South and 1500 East has huge front windows currently looking out on blowing leaves and a pretty neighborhood hunkering down for winter. Inside, the small dining area (no more than a dozen tables) is typically full, lively and flowing with the rich aromas of lovingly prepared Middle Eastern food.

Don't worry if you think you've never had Middle Eastern food. With accessible offerings like pita sandwiches and kebabs, Mazza has the novice covered. And don't worry, either, if you think you've tasted it all. With authentic dishes like maghmoor (eggplant, garbanzo and onions baked in a tomato-garlic sauce) or chicken-and-cauliflower kabseh (seasoned chicken, rice and cauliflower cooked in a spiced tomato-and-onion broth and garnished with fried raisins and pine nuts), Mazza can also satisfy the most educated palate.

A friend and I visited Mazza for a recent weekend lunch, and the place was packed, as I've heard it is quite often. Because we arrived for lunch, our menu choices were limited to appetizers, sandwiches and salads — not that this is much of a hardship. We tried a sampler plate for starters, an option I particularly like because Mazza lets diners craft their own combinations.

Our plate included the ful mudammas, a creamier, and to me, more interesting, version of hummus that includes fava and garbanzo beans, garlic, mint, lemon juice and tahini. The two kinds of beans give this dip both body and creaminess.

We also had the mild Lebanese salad, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and greens lightly dressed in an oil-based house dressing; as well as lemony rice-filled vegetarian grape leaves and dark, spicy mujaddara, a blend of seasoned brown lentils, long-grain rice and sweet caramelized onions — one of my favorite parts of our meal.

My friend had the chicken-kebab sandwich, a mild but complexly flavored creation of cubed chicken breast, marinated in lemon-yogurt sauce, grilled and served with garlicky aioli, tomatoes and pickles in a toasted French roll.

I ordered the shawarma, a sandwich of sliced beef and lamb wrapped in a pita with tahini, veggies and pickles. When it arrived, I'd been given the chicken version by mistake, but I enjoyed it, anyway. On the side, I enjoyed two delicious treats: the cubed-and-fried potatoes "Harra," tender and coated with a brown-cooked, savory mixture of garlic, pepper, cilantro and other spices; and the Mazza special rice, which could be a meal in itself with its slender grains of rice cooked in broth with seasoned ground beef, raisins and several kinds of nuts.

We finished off our meal with a couple of Mazza's baked specialties, a "ma'mool" cookie filled with pistachio paste and a baklava "finger" stuffed with ground cashews. The cookie, while interestingly flavored, had a dry texture and crumbly filling. The baklava, though, was wonderful. The papery layers were rich but not greasy, the filling was nutty, smooth and slightly sweet, and there was just enough honey drizzled on top to sweeten and moisten the roll.

Appetizers $2.75-$9.50, sandwiches $4.50-$7.99, specialties (available after 4 p.m.) $8.95-$13.95, kids' meals $3.50.

Rating: ***

Where: 1515 S. 1500 East

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: Checks, credit cards accepted

Phone: 484-9259

Web: www.mazzacafe.com


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com