So I’ve gotten WAY behind on my food posts, mainly thanks to being unexpectedly busy the last few months (more on that in a future post), and it’s time to clear the backlog a little. Good Mediterranean food has been in short supply for downtown dwellers and workers, though the opening of the pretty decent Cedars Xpress in the tunnel food courts about a year ago started to improve things. After seemingly endless delays, downtown now has another option, with the opening of Cafe Izmir on Ervay Street (ironically, right across the street from Cedars) a few months ago. The original Cafe Izmir on Lower Greenville has been a popular spot for nearly 20 years, but how would the downtown location measure up?
- 211 Ervay Street, Dallas, TX
- Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11-3; Dinner Daily 5-11
- Price: $15-25 per person excluding alcohol
Directions: in the 201 Ervay building (you can’t miss it, it’s turquoise blue) at the northwest corner (left side of the street) of Ervay and Pacific. NOTE: there is no public parking available in the building. The most cost effective option is to park in the surface lots or garages a few blocks east on Elm or Commerce, then walk west, then north on Ervay to reach the restaurant. For DART rail access, get off at St. Paul station, walk one block west along the tracks, then one block south on Ervay.
Cafe Izmir is a little different than most restaurants. Rather than full-size meals, Cafe Izmir specializes in tapas-style plates. The idea is to mix and match to create a larger meal. And tapas is exactly what I started with, selecting the chipotle hummus with pita bread.
Izmir’s garlic-infused hummus is the restaurant’s traditional claim to fame in the Metroplex. The new, spicy chipotle variety doesn’t disappoint. I actually like the chipotle hummus a little better than the regular. The regular hummus is just a tad bitter, but the heat level and sweetness of the peppers masks that well, creating a sweet-spicy combo that is seriously addictive. I could honestly live off the hummus and pita all day long if I wanted to.
For the main course, I’ll feature two dishes from different visits. First, the chicken kebab sandwich, and then the doner sandwich (sliced lamb and beef on pita bread).
Chicken kebab sandwich
My lunchmates chose the chicken kebab bowl and the gyro pide, a calzone-like concoction filled with beef and lamb gyro meat.
Chicken kebab bowl
My first main dish, the kebab sandwich, was alright, though not my favorite. Maybe I went too heavy with the tzatziki. But the sandwich ended up way too sour, probably the combo of the yogurt and pickles inside. The tzatziki itself also suffered from too much dill. At least the kebabs themselves were nicely seasoned and tender. The second dish, the doner sandwich, was much more successful. I usually don’t like lamb at all, but both the lamb and beef were incredibly tender and flavorful. This time, the sour notes of the pickles and tzatziki (this time with just the right amount of dill) complemented the meat nicely. The pita was also perfectly toasted, giving the sandwich a nice crunch. Homemade chips were less successful on both visits, being too greasy and overcooked. But the doner made up for it and then some.
As for the other dishes on the table, the chicken kebab bowl’s overly dry rice marred an otherwise good kebab. The gyro pide differs from your typical gyro. In this version, the meat is wrapped in a baked, calzone-like bread instead of the usual pita. The overall result was good, with tender, flavorful gyro meat and some sort of cheese forming a nice contrast with the crunchy bread. However, this is a heavy dish, one that is probably better for two than one. Also on the second visit, I tried a little bit of the pomegranate shrimp tapas (not pictured). It was delicious, the light pomegranate sauce giving a nice note of tartness to the shrimp. The flaor of the sauce reminded me a little of the gravy in a “pomegranate chicken” dish I used to order all the time at a little restaurant in Hyderabad, India.
For dessert, we all went with baklava for the table, and Turkish coffee for everyone.
I’m actually not a fan of baklava at all. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Cafe Izmir’s version, but baklava in general is WAY too sweet for my tastes. I used to be able to handle that kind of sugar rush when I was in high school, but not so much these days. With all that said, it did have a nice, flaky crust and a buttery flavor underneath all that sugar. The Turkish coffee, though? In one word – awesome. It’s strong as an ox, just like good Turkish coffee should be, and really brought back memories of enjoying coffee on my two visits to Istanbul. It’s well worth the price of admission. Though my co-worker wasn’t terribly amused when I tried to demonstrate how to fortune tell from the coffee grounds…
As far as the restaurant space goes, the space is fairly compact, but when the weather is pleasant (which is to say, not very often in Dallas), the outer walls which double as windows slide out to make it a fresh air dining experience. Lunch draws large crowds, though noise levels remain bearable.
There is also a small-ish bar area, well-stocked with a variety of liquors and local craft beer.
And finally, a couple of eclectic pieces of artwork throughout the building, like this painting on the back wall.
I really liked the service on both visits. Being a family-owned restaurant, service is personal, attentive, and generally pretty quick. There was a delay in getting our coffees on the first visit, but the waiter later explained it was because of a problem with the machine. Even the restaurant’s owner, Beau Nazary, often walks around and mingles with guests. On my first visit here during happy hour, he offered to make my chipotle hummus extra spicy be whipping up a small bowl of roasted green chiles (guess he noticed my affinity for spicy food). And, he was nice enough to pose for a photo with my co-workers and lunchmates, Ben and Jibsy, just for this blog post.
Rating: I will average this one out to 3 1/2 stars, downgraded mainly to uneven food quality on my first visit. The second visit would have been a solid 4. A long-overdue addition to the downtown dining scene, especially since it’s right next door to my office.