Arezu and Charmy’s Persian Taste both offer a modern twist on centuries-old flavors

Arezu, which operates out of Double Happiness in the Brewery District, and Charmy’s, inside the Hills Market Downtown, score big with Persian flavors

G.A. Benton
Mixed kebab platter from Charmy's Persian Taste, located inside Hills Market Downtown.

Elements both traditional and nontraditional merge together at two noteworthy places that entwine centuries-old flavor combinations with contemporary approaches. Welcome to a “twofer'' of Persian eateries opened by emigres who came to Columbus for better lives: Arezu and Charmy’s Persian Taste.   

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Arezu — the word loosely means “desire” in Farsi, the language of Persia and its modern-day equivalent of Iran — is a family run business that whips up classic Persian dishes. Here come the nontraditional aspects: Arezu is a primarily vegan eatery that operates out of Double Happiness, a long and narrow, amusingly kitschy and irreverent Brewery District bar and performance space (and former horse stable) that serves soju-lychee cocktails and is decorated with Chinese-style red lanterns, Buddha heads and shelves of bric-a-brac such as cat figurines and kimono-clad dolls. 

Koobideh kebob  at Arezu, a newly opened Persian restaurant in Double Happiness in the Brewery District.

While everything I sampled at Arezu was very good, its pseudo-meat offerings will command special attention. Made with products from Impossible Foods, they're, well, nearly impossible to distinguish from real beef dishes. In fact, the seared and juicy, hefty, kefta-like koobideh kebab is among the most believable fake-beef items in town. 

I also eagerly devoured the Persian kotlet — two patties that tasted like a hamburger-and-hash-browns amalgam griddle-fried until commendably crispy. Both sizable “Impossible”-based entrees are $16 and come with a refreshing shirazi salad (herb-kissed, citrus-livened chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions) and saffron basmati rice.

Jewelry rice at Arezu, a newly opened Persian restaurant in Double Happiness in the Brewery District.

As you’d hope from an enterprise specializing in rice-happy and saffron-showcasing Persian cuisine, Arezu’s saffron rice was quite nice. If you’d like dill and lima beans added (possibly a tough sell for some, but not me) try the baghali polo ($3). If you’d like a visually striking Persian classic, order the wonderful and dynamic jewelry rice ($4) enhanced with orange peel, almonds, pistachios, raisins and tart barberries (a Persian favorite). 

Rice is also a traditional partner for ghormeh sabzi ($16; $5 as a side), a spellbinding stew the menu says is derived from “a 5000-year-old recipe.” Made with fried herbs, it evoked soup made with deep-fried minced spinach and kidney beans significantly brightened by a potent whole (previously dried) lime. As I happily finished this, Arezu’s chef — Afagh Sarikhani, who honed her cooking skills in a refugee center — gifted me with a piece of lovely nut-brittle, rosebud-embellished tea and a softened heart. 

Salad shirazi and chicken walnut stew from Charmy's Persian Taste, located inside Hills Market Downtown.

Rezi Haghiri, who operates Charmy’s Persian Taste out of the Hills Market Downtown with her wife, Sherry Bayegan (they offer grab-and-go fare there, too, like Persian-influenced quinoa salads), told me that “Charmy’s” is a Farsi-language reference to the four-table restaurant Haghiri and Bayegan owned in Iran until politics caused the couple to flee. Fortunately for Columbus, they brought along their recipes.

Charmy’s wasn't running like clockwork on the Tuesday I visited — I had trouble with the online ordering system and an estimated 20-minute lunchtime wait became 40 minutes — but the food was excellent. 

The skillfully grilled, shareable mixed kebab platter ($20, with fluffy saffron basmati rice) — saffron-tinted, boneless chicken thighs; flavorful shish kebab (lean-but-moist steak); and succulent koobideh (ground-beef-and-onion-based log) — was a great value, too. Ditto for the delightfully bright shirazi salad ($3), which impressively featured uniformly diced veggies. Charmy’s ghormeh sabzi ($15) didn’t include a whole lime, but the addictive stew was enriched with tender lamb. 

Another standout stew, tongue-tingling fesenjoon ($15) — abundant crushed walnuts, chicken and tart-sweet pomegranate molasses — is a truly uncommon dish. It was so compelling that, along with the warm-and-friendly service I received, it'll have me soon exploring the rest of Charmy's not-small menu.

Arezu

482 S. Front St., Brewery District (inside Double Happiness)

567-333-0265

arezupersia.com

Charmy's Persian Taste 

95 N. Grant Ave., Downtown (inside the Hills Market)

charmyspersiantaste.com