In a sense, the newest Middle Eastern restaurant in Columbus is also the oldest. And it's one of the best.
In a sense, the newest Middle Eastern restaurant in Columbus is also the oldest. And itís one of the best.
Mazah, which closed in April and reopened recently in a vastly improved Grandview Avenue space, has family roots and recipes reaching back to a faded pioneer. Thatíd be Sinbadís, a bodega-ensconced dinky counter operation that helped put once-exotic hummus onto the Columbus dining map decades ago.
This rebooted Mazah isnít trying to reinvent the classic cuisine of the Arab world, but it is uncommonly mindful that eating those vibrant and healthful dishes should be fun. To that end, family-oriented and patio-equipped Mazah offers speedy and friendly service, genre-surpassing drinks and has even booked free live bands and belly dancers. Toss in cheery paint in colors like mango, turquoise and avocado, and Mazahís bright, modern and roomy new surroundings are especially conducive to celebratory meals ? if loud when crowded.
Tellingly, Mazahís name derives from an Arabic word for a festive style of tapas dining. And its self-named specialty, the colorful Family Mazah ($19), is the best way to get your dinner party started ? or finished if itís just a few of you noshing.
This palate-popping carnival of eat-it-with-pita small plates is a skillfully made array of creamy hummus, tangy and smoky baba ghanoush, oil and zatar (an aromatic condiment of herbs, spices and seeds), chunky and minty tzatziki (homemade yogurt dip), good olives and pickles (these include pungent pink turnips and makdous ? irresistibly salty baby eggplants stuffed with walnuts and red peppers).
More modest-sized-and-priced starters include expertly fried, garlic-kissed falafel ($6) and tightly hand-rolled, zingy grape leaves ($8) starring either cinnamon-hinting ground meat or chickpeas. Iím also partial to Mazahís Fatayer ($6), a reheated-on-the-grill homemade savory pastry with a tingly spinach filling.
These dishes find their perfect beverage partner in iced arak ($7), a black licorice-flavored liqueur similar to Greek ouzo and Turkish raki. You can also slurp arak in Mazahís most interesting cocktail, the Zorbatini ($7). Bending arakís licorice kick with vodka and briny Kalamata olives, itís bracingly refreshing and potent.
If youíre not an anise fan, Mazah offers wines, like a Torrontes (crisp Argentine white) and an Israeli Cab (Barkan Classic) for $8 a glass. There are also beers (like $6 drafts of Lake Erie Monster from Great Lakes, a double IPA-zilla rampaging around 9-percent ABV), fresh-pressed carrot juice ($4) and Turkish coffee ($2.50).
Entree ordering (sandwiches are only offered at lunch) follows a value-friendly format: You pick two sides from a list of dips and salads, plus a main to play with Mazahís excellent yellow rice, tahini sauce and pita bread. Thereís consistency to Mazahís fresh-flavored cooking too, as it deftly uses herbs, spices and lemon juice to leaven starches and enliven grilled proteins.
For something hefty, partner Mazahís mayo-free and interesting potato salad plus its surprisingly dynamic three bean salad with either its fantastic Kefta Kebobs (sausage-y, seared and juicy beef-lamb patties perfumed with parsley, onion and allspice; $13) or its practically fatless, grill-marked Lamb Kebobs ($16).
On the lighter side, you canít beat lean and distinctly curry-scented chicken shawarma meat ($12) served with Mazahís vibrant and parsley-forward tabouli plus its minted Greek Salad. If itís fish you seek, the hulking Tilapia filet ($15) ? like other entrees, it arrives crosshatched in a viscous tahini sauce ? is big and filling, if hardly thrilling. Try that with Mazahís frisky cabbage salad and chopped fattoush salad (a texture-fest with toasted pita ďcroutonsĒ).
Desserts are splurge-worthy, especially the killer Kenafi ($8) ? a nutty and honey syrup-drizzled, crispy shredded wheat pancake encasing melted akawi (mozzarella-like) cheese. Like this ďMazah 2.0,Ē its historical roots might be old, but it still feels fresh and wonderful.
Photos by Meghan Ralston