Restaurant Review - Ali Baba's Turkish & Mediterranean Delights

Pita purist: Stuff your pie hole with no-frills Mediterranean at Ali Baba's

Downtown's Broad Street is a shady lane where the lack of traffic allows pedestrians to walk freely from sidewalk to sidewalk, newspaper in hand, looking for a half-hour escape from cubicles and computer screens. An inviting array of eateries dot the sidewalks — a pizzeria, cyber cafe, deli — and, among them, is a small Mediterranean restaurant called Ali Baba's.

The actual space of Ali Baba's is about the size of that closet you spent seven or so minutes in with that cute girl you had a crush on in seventh grade. The walls are decorated with a tacky collage of trite, framed photographs depicting the sights of Turkey. The fact that these guys have no flair for decor, or perhaps don't care for decor, makes you feel certain about the prospect of getting no-frills, bare-bones basic food that's cheap — not draining your lunch fund so they can drape the walls in silk tapestries.

Basic is exactly what you get. The menu at Ali Baba's features six entrees, including four wraps, a side order combo and a ground lamb kebob platter. It also features the standard variety of side orders for $2.25-$2.95. The Doner Pita Wrap is quite tasty and, in contrast with other gyros at equally modest establishments, tastes like actual lamb. In addition to a homemade yogurt sauce, Ali Baba's employs a signature red tomato sauce that, for pita-stand purists, may seem like sacrilege but actually works quite well in the blend, adding a sweet counterpoint to the savory taste of the lamb.

The falafel wrap ($3.95) is somewhat of a disappointment. The wrap is coated with a combination of hummus, tabouli, tahini, lettuce and sliced tomatoes. The problem is not with the ingredients, which appear suitably fresh, but rather the balance of the ingredients. There's way too much lettuce and tabouli, which serves only to hide the flavor of the falafel. I had to wait until I reached the bottom of the wrap to get a real taste of the succulent blend of falafel and tahini sauce.

The Mediterranean combo ($3.95) includes six side items — hummus, babaganush, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli, Mediterranean salad and a bland combination of beans and carrots. The hummus is spicy but not too dramatic. It maintains the necessary thickness and is easily scooped with the fresh slices of pita they provide. Two stuffed grape leaves are included, both of which are saturated with just the right amount of olive oil. Once inside your mouth, the leaf melts perfectly into the rice filling. The main disappointment is the tabouli, a dry, coarse blend of fresh chopped parsley, onions, cous cous, olive oil and lemon juice. Only it seems they've forgotten the olive oil and lemon juice. The tabouli sits atop the Mediterranean salad, a blend of tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, parsley, feta and olives. The olives and feta help, but a dash of olive oil or salad dressing of some kind would help the greens go down.

For dessert, they offer baklava ($1.95). I should mention that I've never been a big fan of baklava — until now. You'll wish you had ordered a second portion.

Ali Baba's has its occasional faults, but it's the more frequent successes — from the tasty lamb wrap to those grape leaves I could go on all day about — that lead me, time after time, on the long walk from my cubicle to its kitchen.