Abu's Oasis Deli

It was a few minutes past closing time when I slipped into the tiny Lebanese/Greek restaurant/deli/market.

It had been a stinking rotten day, and I was not in the mood — for anything. But, I owed Tempo a review. And a couple friends had recommended the place.

"Are you still open?" I wearily asked.

"Yes, I'm here," said the gal behind the counter with a gracious smile. "What would you like?"

I quickly perused the menu and ordered the Sampler Combo ($13.95.) Since I was dining solo, it seemed the best way to try a variety of items.

While I waited for my meal, I wandered about the deli looking at boxes of hummus and tabouli mixes, bottles of rosewater and pickled turnips and bags of exotic spices.

I also couldn't help noticing the giant hookahs (water pipes), elaborately gilded tissue boxes, decorative plates — and baseball caps. All for sale.

I was sharing the restaurant that evening with two ladies chatting away in thick accents, while dipping into their own sampler communal bowl.

Later, a man with blue toenail polish and a kid on a scooter came in to order some goodness to go. The pair seemed to be regulars.

The kid came back in short order to get an order of baklava, a pastry made of many layers of paper-thin dough with a honey and ground nut filling.

"Ma'am, do you like spicy?" the cook came to my table to ask.

"Yes, I do like things a little spicy," I replied.

She nodded with a smile and my fluted wooden bowl arrived in short order.

My mood was improving by the minute. When my bowl arrived, I was nearing Nirvana.

It smelled wonderful and was packed to the top with lamb shawarma, rice pilaf, grape leaves, spanakopaka, fatayer, fresh veggies and several small containers filled with tabouli, hummus, sadzekie and baba ghanouj.

The lamb schwarma was redolent with spices. The pilaf was thick with toasted sliced almonds.

The stuffed grape leaves were the best I've ever had. In fact, they were the only dolmas I've ever enjoyed. I generally find these grape leaves which are filled with a mixture of rice, onions, currants, pine nuts, mint and spices, and then gently steamed, to be kind of stringy and odd tasting.

Finally, I see what all the fuss is about. Yum.

The golden pastry of the fatayer (a Lebanese spinach pie) was tender. The "spanakopaka" was stuffed with spinach, onions, cheeses and herbs, enfolded by crispy, flaky phyllo dough.

I couldn't begin to finish the dish, and took more than half of the food home. I also took home a piece of baklava.

The pastry, combined with a cup of coffee, made a quick breakfast. The dinner leftovers made a heavenly lunch.

The next time I go to Abu's, I'll try one of the Lebanese teas. Maybe the "Flower Tea with Pine Nut" — with an order of those great stuffed grape leaves.

— Sanne Specht

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