I decided to check out the Shisha Cafe this weekend because I was in the mood for something different and inexpensive. After looking through the local paper’s top dining picks for Middle Eastern fare, Shisha Cafe fit the bill and was close to where I work. The cafe occupies a small spot at the end of a strip center and has indoor and outdoor seating. Despite its name, however, I am inclined to report that this place is more of a lounge or parlor rather than a cafe, and I will have to respectfully disagree with the Express News’ assessment that the fare is worth investigating.
“Shisha” is the Arabic term for what many know and refer to as a “hooka” pipe. And as the name implies, the focus of the cafe is indeed smoking (“oh, and by the way, we serve food”). Evidence of this fact became more apparent as my family took a seat inside on plastic patio furniture and torn rattan tables. Thank goodness the music is kept at an acceptable level because I can only take so much of watching overly-produced Persian music videos featuring Western looking people singing in Guiness record-breaking tone and voice modulations. Popular American board games await on a shelf at the front counter for patrons to pass their time until the place closes at 4am. Rather than visiting a restaurant, the large bong (oops, I mean water pipe) assortment made it seem like I had entered a reincarnation of a “Magic Habits” head shop sans rock music, glow in the dark posters, and age limit warning signs.
My first disappointment is with the pricing. As usual, I checked out the menu on their website (which is done pretty well, by the way) and was excited to see $2.99 appetizers. I figured we could order several to get a good sample of the fare and still stay within a budget. The actual prices for the appetizers at the cafe were $3.69. I know that sounds petty, but it is almost a 20% difference (substantial). My second disappointment (and more appalling, actually) came just as swiftly when I ordered water. If I wanted water I would have to buy bottled Ozarka (at $0.99 no less). Ridiculous! We’re not in Iraq, for goodness sake. I’m pretty sure they do not have an ice maker, thus necessitating the bottled water. In addition, a can of soda would cost me $1.29. Man, the food better be good.
We ordered two appetizers: the hummus and the fool mudammas. For the uninitiated, hummus is a dip made from mashed chick peas, sesame paste, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice and is served with pita bread. Made well, hummus is a fantastic dip featuring a smooth texture and garlicky taste. Done poorly and you get Shisha Cafe hummus. It was just plain bland, lacking both garlic and salt. Plus, its difficult to spruce up something you serve on a disposable plastic plate. The fool mudammas was better, but not great. Similar to the hummus, it is made with mashed fava beans and served warm. This version still had a chunky texture that seemed to highlight the beans more and was seasoned well. The only weird thing about it is that it was so oily that it would not stick to the pita. You had to spoon it on and carefully aim for the pie hole. Additionally, it would be nice to be served homemade pita in a Persian restaurant (oh, right, this is a cafe).
We also ordered the Beef and Chicken Shish Kebab sandwiches, both of which come with lettuce, tomato, and pickles (in plastic baskets, thus bolstering my claim that the “cafe” is really no more than a glorified pub with no alcohol). The chicken comes with a creamy garlic sauce (hmm, I seem to have missed that) that added the moisture necessary to prevent the sandwich from being dry. The beef is supposed to be skewered and grilled ground beef with hummus. If this was ground beef then they pressed the heck out of it. The beef was like a dry and chewy piece of cheap steak and the hummus did nothing to soften the blow. Both sandwiches were wrapped in flat bread that was grilled a little too long, resulting in a chewy wrap.
After tax and tip, I spent around $26. Certainly not worth it in my book. I know nothing about what their hookas are like so I can’t comment on them. If you go to Shisha, go there to hang out with friends, not to find good Persian food. But if you are looking for a place to hang out and eat, there are other places that offer much better “pub grub.”