Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fattoush Cafe

Monday August 9th 2010
Fattoush Café, 18th and Charlotte, Nashville, TN

Back when I first lived in Nashville, I discovered this place after a particularly busy afternoon spent doing $12 psychology experiments at my home away from home, Wilson Hall, on the Vanderbilt campus. Not feeling as sharp as I’d normally like to, after staring at the computer pressing the Z and M buttons in rapid succession for three hours, I took a couple wrong turns on my way back home and ended up a little further down Charlotte than usual, right in front of the Fattoush Café. Loaded with $36 of that funny study money, needing a mental re-set, and genuinely loving Mediterranean food, I checked the place out. A renovation was underway. Protective plastic sheeting hung all around the dining room, shielding us from the drywall dust and paint fumes that lurked beyond. The floor had been completely destroyed. Almost no one else was around. I liked it that way, and made it a regular stop on the way home from the psych experiments, having a $5 gyro in peace, and enjoying the positive antics of the owner/cook who was always exceptionally friendly, and insisted that you don’t take your food to go, hoping someone would walk by, see me, and realize it was ok to eat in there.
Almost two years later, things are different. Renovations are complete, they’ve got palm trees, beaded curtains with palm trees on them, a nice slick floor, a new paint job. And not for nothing, it seems to me to be quite a popular place these days, there were all kinds of people in there, enjoying themselves.
The owner guy, who does a lot to keep himself busy, is a real character, and apparently a sly fox with the ladies. I sat at a table off to the side after ordering, just looking around the room passing time. A couple of women, business professionals, finished their lunch, and while one went to the back to throw their trash away, the other stood by the door.
“Thank you so much.”, the owner said to her.
“Oh, thank you. It was great!”, she told him.
By this point, her friend was halfway across the room, and it was then that she felt his gaze. It had to have been a strong stare, because she took a sudden notice to it, and jerked her head up, meeting eyes with the owner, who quite smoothly right in their interlocking moment said, “Bye bye beautiful.” And not in some friendly uncle kind of way, dude was serious. Just after they left a young blonde, likely a student, came in. He already knew her order, and instructed her to sit in the seat closest to the cash register. She had books all over the table and was feverishly writing notes down, she might have actually gotten some work done if it wasn’t for the dude interrupting her every minute or so, telling jokes, reading her papers, telling her how good the food was going to be.

Normally I got the Gyro here, which was always awesome, but this time I switched it up and went with the Beef Shawerma sandwich. Thin strips of beef, stuffed into a pita with some cucumber chunks, Tabouli, some sesame tzatziki sauce, and a bunch of small green leafy vegetable things, names unknown. One of the green vegetable things, or something in there, was extremely bitter, which I’ve had in falafel sandwiches before and tried to pick out, but I just let it go this time. And another ingredient had a very strong spice to it, not a hot spice, but a dominating flavor that rose to the top of everything else whenever you bit a piece. I couldn’t really tell everything that was in there, because the thing was so damn sloppy. I made the mistake of unwrapping the paper around it, and it just gave up, slumped over onto my tray spilling its contents everywhere like a drunken hobo who’s finally found a place to pass out. My plastic utensils and handful of napkins proved absolutely necessary. It was actually one of the most complexly flavored things I’ve eaten in a long time.
I don’t want to give the impression that the owner guy is a creep, he’s not, he checked on me to see how my meal was as well, and went out of his way, stopping what he was doing to say ‘thanks’ and ‘good bye’ when I got up to leave. He’s a good guy who wants people to feel comfortable in his restaurant and know that he appreciates their business. Which I do. It’s been nice seeing their transition from destitute construction site, to popular lunch time hang out.

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