Have you met Sammy yet? If not, it might be about time you did!
How could all this ethnically diverse and delectable cuisine be available in our own backyard, and yet we still remain surprised that crossing state line in search of culinary satisfaction is unnecessary? The answer is simple…..open your eyes, pay attention and see your community as a family that has as much to offer as you have to give.
The Oasis Grill is a relatively new Middle Eastern restaurant that stands proudly on Broad Street. The establishment houses a lounge, two dining rooms, a take-out window, and a market for fresh meat, produce, bakery/breads and authentic Middle Eastern dry goods.
Our appetizers included a Falafel Plate ($5.49) and the Starter Combo ($6.95) – Hummus, Baba Ghannoush, Tabouli with a side of pita. The falafel arrive piping hot, perfectly fried and full of flavor. The hummus was smooth, rich and topped with a small pool of olive oil in the center. The baba ghannoush was smokey and slightly tangy the way my grandmother used to make it! The tabouli was freshly prepared and excellent. In case you’ve missed my subtle references, order the appetizers!
On the recommendation of our server Tebeah, we tried a chicken and rice dish with Mulukhiyah (mo-la-he-ya). This green vegetable (similar to a chopped spinach with garlic and coriander) is commonly used in Middle-Eastern, mainly Egyptian cuisine and was quite good. Additionally, we ordered the Oasis Shish Combo ($13.99) which included a skewer of lamb, a skewer of tawook (chicken) and a skewer of kafta (ground beef and lamb). The lamb was the standout winner here. The meat was flavorful, moist and cooked medium rare. The white meat chicken shish had some heat and a good spice profile, but was not moist enough. The kafka was my least favorite shish because it was very dry. Honestly, if both the chicken and the kafka had been grilled for less time, they would have both been winners too! The combo platter did come with a delicious and freshly made cucumber yogurt sauce for dipping. Finally, we ordered a chicken Shawarma; cut it up and share with friends, they’ll have a whole new respect for you.
So who is Sammy? He’s the hospitable owner of the Oasis Grille. He introduced himself within 5 minutes of us being sat. He recommended the food we ordered, assisted in the preparation, and poured us our Turkish coffee at the end of our meal.
Although it’s supposed to be “all about the food,” it’s also about the experiences and the people you meet along the way, and on this day, it was both. I love this gig!
Like a lost shepherd seeking out water in the desert, I found my oasis for the perfect taste of the Middle East in RI. That would be the Oasis Café, Grill and Market on Broad St in Providence. After perusing the menu, we decided to start with the trio of hummus, tabouli and baba ghanoush with a side of falafel. The falafel was fried to perfection on the outside and moist and well-seasoned in the center. I enjoyed spreading the hummus, tabouli and baba ghanoush all over the fresh-baked Syrian bread making a falafel sandwich that would woo even the finickiest of palates. The freshness of each individual item came through and got me ready for the next round of goodness.
All I have to say is “Fear the Shawarma!!” I don’t mean that in a negative way either. A Shawarma is a “sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey or beef. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Chunks of fat within the meat ensure that the shawarma stays juicy”. Oasis offered a Chicken Shawarma on flat Syrian Bread with lettuce, tomato, pickles and delicious garlic spread to top it off. After one bite, I feared that I may devour another one on my ride home leaving a mess on my floor boards. The crispness of the veggies and the unique flavor of the imported, Mediterranean pickles provided a tasty backdrop for the slow-roasted goodness of the chicken. The right touch of garlic sauce was a perfect compliment to the sandwich, as well.
I didn’t think I could enjoy lunch more until we decided to hit the “Hookah Bar”. The flavored tobacco filtered through a lemon and the water of a beautifully designed hookah was a relaxing way to finish off a great meal.
I couldn’t resist a shot of high-powered Turkish coffee, as well. The owner Sammy was a gracious host and took time to enjoy the Hookah with our table as we took innocent but potentially incriminating pictures of ourselves blowing out massive amounts of “perfectly legal” tobacco smoke. I left the Oasis buzzed and ready for my next trip back to this Middle Eastern gem.
The shawarma. Don’t be afraid to say it. All you have to do is add “sh” to “warmer.” If you’re a native Rhode Islander or have been assimilated here for many years, you naturally won’t pronounce the “r” at the end of “warmer” and it will sound perfect. Now say it…ah yes…that’s it!
You never forget your first shawarma…
Or at least I never did. I was traveling with a sales rep up in Toronto in the mid-90’s. For lunch the rep said, “Let’s go for a shawarma!” Say what??? And that is how my affair started with the shawarma. Years would pass before I would see another shawarma. This time it was in Nuremburg, Germany at an international trade show. It was late night and the town was still a buzz in nightlife. After moving from street vendor to street vendor we landed at a store front. This is all I remember…someone shouted “Shawarma!!” That was all I needed to hear. I walked briskly into the open shop and that is when it happened. My face, (nose first), then body, slammed smack in the middle of a patio plate glass sliding door! Luckily it must have been premium grade tempered glass made in Germany because it didn’t shatter. I bounced right off it! There were witnesses to this event and it was one of those “what happens on the road, stays on the road” moments. We all laughed for what seemed like an eternity only to pause to bite into our shawarmas! I have to tell you…it was either the beer from BarFusser or a special top secret German glass cleaner that made that plate glass slider invisible.
I am going to cite, all most verbatim from Wikipedia. My goal here is to bring you up to speed on all things “shawarma“…
Shawarma (Arabic: شاورما), is a Middle Eastern and Southeastern European sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a halal mixture of meats. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Chunks of fat within the meat ensure that the shawarma stays juicy. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East and North Africa.
Shawarma is eaten with pita bread, tabouli, fattoush, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma is a version of döner kebab and is thus similar to gyros.
The word shawarma comes from the Turkish word çevirme, meaning turning.
You shawarma, I shawarma…everybody shawarmas…
Check this image out – unbelievable!! According to the Wikipedia entry on shawarmas , the shawarma has over 36 variations and almost as many spellings. It appears to be on every major continent throughout the world. We’re not talking your everyday , ho-hum sandwich wrap here people. The shawarma is truly a global phenomenon.
If the food at the Oasis wasn’t enough to satisfy your craving and quest for a great local taste of the Mediterranean and Middle East, then doing a hookah should complete the experience!! I was blown (actually “inhaled”) away by this first time encounter. All I will say is this…after you eat, tell Sammy to set you up with a hookah!
Full belly, passing the hookah, Middle Eastern music playing in the background…truly an Oasis to be treasured. Boy do I love this state!
Oasis Grill is at 220 Broad Street Providence, RI 02903 401-228-6333 –