I will freely admit that I wrote off Jerusalem Café years ago. When I first returned to Jackson in the summer of 2007, I was surprised to see that the old El Ranchero was gone and replaced by a Mediterranean restaurant. Intrigued by the idea of competition for Aladdin, a few buddies and I tried it a little while after it opened.
I remember two rather shocking things. The first surprise was the number of hookahs they had. Of course, this shock quickly faded into disgust as I found that the hookahs had filthy stems, filthy water, and bargain basement shisha. The second and more pertinent shock was that the wait staff at Jerusalem Café seemed to be the same one from El Ranchero. Judging by the numbers of underage drinkers in the bar, I expected to see Hector dishing out shots of rotgut tequila in the back. Well it’s been a few years and I wanted to see if anything had changed from the greasy, poorly made food I was served a few years earlier.
Walking in at 1 in the afternoon, it was a ghost town. There was no music, just the sounds of Spanish emanating from the kitchen. I was soon greeted by the lone waiter and shown to a table. It’s your typical survey of Mediterranean cuisine, a kebab here, a gyro there, maybe a few grape leaves and falafel for variety. What did catch my eye was the Arabic coffee on the back on the menu. Ever since my friend Sam got me hooked on the stuff, I’ve been on a relaxed hunt for the caffeine packed beverage.
As horrible as the coffee was, I was actually quite happy with the salad that came with my entrée.
There’s nothing exotic or fancy about this salad. It really is nothing but lettuce, oil, vinegar, and feta cheese. You can’t get much simpler than this, but it works.
Maybe you’re like me, when I first saw my order of fried haloumi cheese, I wondered who was mad at the cheese.
Apparently that aggression had resulted in a nice crust and a nice balance of oil, garlic, and parsley. Surprisingly there was even a little spicy kick to the cheese. It may have been unintentional but it worked out for the better.
They apparently have a good fryer at Jerusalem Café, but these falafels were bland as wallpaper paste.
Actually, I thought these chickpea patties tasted like plain fried cornmeal. The accompanying dipping sauce, a standard plain tzatziki, was no use either. This could have been a passable falafel if the kitchen knew how to use their spices. That being said, it’s still miles ahead of the worst falafel in Jackson, the specimens from Keifers.
Well, there’s no sugarcoating it, these kababs look pretty ghastly.
Inside there are big pieces of onions, a few specks of parsley, and the occasional odd bit of cayenne flavor. On the whole these kababs were burned, overcooked, and perfectly dried out.
The accompanying rice tastes all right, but salty.
Well, that was it for the first visit to Jerusalem Café, but I figured it was due a second at the very least. So a week or so later, I dropped back by Jerusalem Café for another lunch. No more a ghost bar, there were a whole two people there for lunch!
What the hell is this? I know fried kibbeh is often shaped like a bomb, but this looks ridiculous.
Surprisingly, the center was neither raw nor frozen, but it was still a bland piece of kibbeh. A combination of odd presentation and poor flavor makes this just a waste of beef, bulgur wheat, and pine nuts.
It’s a unique and odd combination. The lemon flavor of the hummus works with the lamb, but it seemed like every piece of lamb had gristle. I don’t know how authentically Israeli this dish is, but I actually liked the combination, I’d just use better lamb next time.
Since I had come away disappointed with their kofte kababs last time, I decided to see how Jerusalem Café could handle chicken and the ubiquitous gyro.
The gyro and chicken combo plate comes with usual accompaniments, odd basmati rice and hummus.
It looks like the strips of gyro meat have been finished on the griddle, but they have a different taste, cumin maybe? Regardless, the good salty crust is the highlight of the gyro meat.
As far as the chicken, it looks quite juicy but it’s a different story when you take a bite. There’s nothing memorable about the chicken, it’s plain white meat chicken that quickly disappears beneath bland tzatziki sauce. Overall another mediocre to poor dish.
I really had no intention of eating dessert, but I decided to see if the Latinos in the kitchen did anything interesting with the baklava.
Well, they didn’t. There was a slight cinnamon taste to the first few bites that quickly subsided.
Instead there was nothing but dough and honey, no nuts, no real flavor. Just a solid brick of honey and phyllo dough, I’m not sure how old this piece of masonry was, but it definitely had some shelf life on it.
So, two meals later what did I come away with? There are some decent things at Jerusalem Café. It’s definitely not as terrible as I remember, but that’s far from praise. Actually this is just mediocre Mediterranean food, even for Jackson. Despite the nice, lone waiter, this really was a waste of time. A decent hummus and appealingly salty gyro meat doesn’t warrant a visit. If you want a gyro, go to Wraps. If you want a kabab, go to Aladdin, even if Aladdin’s kababs are overcooked, they aren’t as bad as here. The bottom line is if you find yourself looking for a break in the monotony, go somewhere else.
Jerusalem Cafe Address & Information
2741 Old Canton Road, Jackson, MS 39216 // 601.321.8797