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A Taste Of The Middle East And Other Delights On Williamson Road

Manager Saji Khawaja serves a falafel wrap.

by Gene Marrano

The first thing one might notice about the menu at Jerusalem Restaurant (4818 Williamson Road, near the corner with Hershberger) is its extensive menu. Those familiar with the typical something-for-everyone menus of the diners found in the Northeast and elsewhere will feel right at home.

Homemade New York Style (thin crust) pizza (try the veggie pizza I was advised), calzone and stromboli are tempting, as are a wide array of pasta dishes, like the Dalmere pasta (10.99) with shrimp, scallops and whitefish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic with sun dried tomatoes and basil, served over penne pasta. Yumm. The spicy chicken pasta picante looks appetizing as well. A member of the wait staff recommended the Philly cheese steak pizza as a favorite. The ingredients used are fresh and all of the dough is made on-site daily.

High praise: a visiting New York Times reporter, after first remarking that he thought it might hurt the restaurant that diners had to pay an extra dollar for a house salad, called a day or so later to tell the staff at Jerusalem that it was some of the best pasta he had ever eaten.

That’s according to Saji Khawaja, one of the managers and son of owner “Mike” Jalil, who also owns convenience stores in the area. They moved to America from Jerusalem, in large part because of all the unrest in that ancient city between the Muslims and the Israeli Jews over who shall control it if a peace accord is ever reached.

In a nod to its Middle Eastern roots, Jerusalem Restaurant also features beef and chicken gyros, Mediterranean salads (tabbouleh, fattoush etc.) and a signature falafel wrap – fried patties made with homemade hummus (another Jerusalem Restaurant specialty, according to Khawaja), salad, pickles and a generous portion of tzatziki (cucumber sauce). Khawaja recommends the kebab dishes, “because of the way they’re seasoned.”

A recent taste test found the falafel wrap to be a treat indeed; the patties were moist under the fried exterior, not too hard, the dough wrap was fresh and did not overpower the falafel; the sauce was not too thick. Topped off with a moist, flaky chunk of baklava (a Mediterranean delicacy in many countries), the experience left one wanting to come back for more.

In a nod to the Muslim roots of the family that owns it, some of the meat served by Jerusalem is prepared in the Halal fashion – animals cannot be slaughtered in front of another beast and the carcasses must be hung until all of the blood is drained. Khawaja said Muslims who observe Halal have found out about the restaurant since it opened several months ago, after a two-month delay due to a fire.

Khawaja said the head chef has a long history of cooking in major cities, bringing some of that experience to an extensive menu. “He’s been doing it for 18 years now,” said Khawaja of the chef, who has worked at Italiano’s in Salem and in Blacksburg as well. “We’ve never had any complaints about the food. Everything’s great,” he adds.

Jerusalem Restaurant, 4818 Williamson Road, open every day from 11am-10pm. Carryout and limited home delivery (on weekends) is available. 777-0996. 

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