By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
PINELLAS PARK — Jordan Valley opened in July as the area's newest halal butcher shop, serving local Muslim and Arab communities. The little attached grocery features Middle Eastern foodstuffs and treats, from Turkish Delight to hookah supplies. Rosewater, sturdy bags of bulgur wheat, Jiggly Wiggly halal marshmallows — wandering the aisles is a delicious window into Middle Eastern exotica.
More delicious, however, is pulling up a seat at the small on-site restaurant. Owner Yazan Issa, a Palestinian married to a Moroccan, takes his menu through Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern cuisines, offering nuanced versions of many familiar dishes.
House baba ghanoush ($4.29) brings a puree of eggplant roasted to nuttiness, mixed with just a bit of tahini and olive oil. The flavor that shines through is eggplant, whereas house hummus ($4.29) gets a little more sesame paste front and center, a nice foil for a pile of warm pita triangles or an order of parsley-dominant tabbouleh ($4.99). Even the timid will enjoy Jordan Valley's spin on fattoush ($4.99): cucumber, tomato, onion and peppers roughly chopped and paired with crunchy baked pita croutons in a lemony vinaigrette.
Traditional carved lamb shawarma comes in a sandwich ($5.99) with tomato, pickle and a drizzle of tahini — a good choice, but trumped by the more interesting chicken shawarma ($5.99), its sweet/spicy seasoning redolent of cinnamon. Falafel ($4.99) and ground beef/lamb kefta ($4.99) get similar treatment in a pita sandwich, both flavorful and hearty (the neon-green interior of the falafel will get your attention, though).
A small dessert case by the register is crowded with variations on phyllo-nuts-sugar pastries. Still, it may be more fun to finish a meal and walk the grocery aisles, trolling for interesting sweets. Chocolate bars studded with hazelnuts, halvah and fruit pastes, or even the shop's namesake candy, Jordan almonds. These confections have a centuries-long history as Middle Eastern wedding treats, the flavor contrast symbolizing the bittersweet nature of marriage. While that rings true, in the case of Jordan Valley, this marriage of Middle Eastern cuisines, grocery and butcher shop is more sweet than not, many area Muslims choosing to break the fast here each evening during Ramadan, which ends Tuesday.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.