Mazzeh is the Hebrew word to ask, "What is it?"
"What is Mazzeh?" is the English way to ask, "What the hell is Mazzeh?" The answer is fine Mediterranean cuisine in a State Street strip mall.
Fine is a stretch; it's more like fast Mediterranean food, as the place sits on the site of an old Quizno's-turned-Kimo Subbies and despite a tabled perimeter, it most closely resembles a hallway.
Mazzeh, which opened in January and expects to have a liquor license in the next month or two, is an order-at-the-counter joint. They'll make your food to order, but the place is thinly staffed, so the counter lady also acts as waitress, delivering food a few minutes after the order is taken. I give her credit for multi-tasking as she flies out from behind the register every few moments with more tray grub, disregarding the increasing line of hungry patrons.
Studies have touted the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruit, cereals and olive oil. Typically, dairy and meats are consumed in moderation--as is alcohol, which is often a with-meals wine.
But let's face it, going meatless is almost suicidal for a restaurant in Boise. So in marches the American tweaking for a beef/lamb/chicken-heavy menu.
On a beautiful afternoon, my favorite cutthroat gangsta Filth Dirty Dirt swooped in and picked me up for a lunch date.
I ordered the chicken shawarma sandwich. FDD opted for the gyro sandwich because, though not familiar with many of the menu offerings, his most favorite restaurant is Mikey's Gyros in Moscow, and he often wakes up in the middle of the night salivating from nocturnal images of Mikey's beef-lamb gyro innards.
We also split a side order sampler--a fun deal where you pick three of the nine side order options. We chose baba ghannooj (eggplant spread), mujaddara (rice-lentil-onion dish) and a Lebanese salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and "mint," which I believe is some ancient Middle Eastern word for parsley.
Mazzeh's speedy service receives an A-plus. I really want to say the food gets an A-plus too, because I want to see more ethnic food in Boise, and maybe this is a good way to start, but I just can't say that. The food was disappointingly bland.
My skewer-grilled shawarma was dry in the face of the added garlic sauce. And FDD mentioned he wouldn't have dreams about his overly cucumber-saucy gyro. The sandwiches came with pita wedges and a hearty puddle of hummus, but mazzeh? The hummus was so lacking in tahini it made the pita I dipped into it taste no different than a pita with a wet blob.
This is not to say the food was bad, it could have been snazzier. In fact, the appetizer plate was quite enjoyable. Both FDD and I greatly enjoyed the mujaddara and disputed over which of the other two was second best. My #2 fav was the baba ghannooj.
I'll go back to Mazzeh because I want to see it stick around. And it's possible that they're making menu changes that aren't as obvious as the meat load. It could be that they're starting off mild to welcome Boiseans' docile palates to a lesser-known cuisine. And slowly and steadily they'll hook us ... as they turn up the pep.
--Jennifer Gelband celebrates her birthday July 27. She accepts presents.