Filling the void (with hummus)
Sacramento, CA 95816
The first thing you notice when you walk into Sanad’s Mediterranean Deli is, well, the deli case. It’s a thing of beauty: meticulously arranged, colorful salads; soldierlike rows of precisely rolled, army-green grape leaves; ultracreamy yogurt with pools of olive oil; a seasoned mashed-potato dish shaped into a heart; chickpea salad with big slices of pale-green olives; rice dishes, grilled vegetables and a kelly-green tabbouleh. And that’s just the deli case, not the actual menu, which includes all kinds of Middle Eastern dishes—falafel, gyros, hummus, kufta kabob, chicken souvlaki.
All of this is coming out of the tiny-looking kitchen at the former True Love Coffeehouse (its coffee-drinks menu is still up on the wall), and seating is on the front patio or in the many little carved-up rooms, which have been decorated with a few Middle Eastern touches: little brass-looking urns, filigreed wall hangings and so on. (There are also hookahs, and a menu for them, but that is well outside my area of expertise.)
Deciding on a lunch item is not easy. There are, for instance, four options just for falafel: regular, traditional (with bell peppers and cucumber), with hummus and with eggplant. Whichever one you choose, I do suggest the falafel. I tried my dining companion’s, and it was fresh-tasting and excellent, fluffy and bright green with herbs on the inside, crunchy-crusted on the outside. The pita bread was also fluffy and nicely toasted at the edges, and the hefty sandwich’s dressings (the traditional comes with both an olive-oil dressing and tahini) combined for a tart, nutty-tasting and savory condiment.
I was also pleased with the kibbe pita, though I’d tried to order the kufta (ground sirloin with parsley and onion). They were out of the latter, but the kibbe was tasty: A shell of firm, fried, deeply browned ground beef with cracked wheat in it surrounded crumblier-textured ground beef with resinous pine nuts. The whole balls were broken up in the pita and mixed with lettuce and some rather wan tomatoes for a hearty, very good lunch.
The menu of “Mediterranean specialties” (things served on pitas, that is) can all be supplemented with a side from the deli case for $1.99, so I opted for tabbouleh. Finely chopped herbs made up most of it, and these were fresh and verdant. The dressing was so tangy with bright lemon that it almost tasted effervescent on the tongue; the salad was practically bouncing with flavor.
We also tried a plate of za’atar as an appetizer—a simple grilled pita topped with a spice mix. The menu said that it had olive oil in the topping as well, but it was quite dry, with no real hint of oil. I liked the earthy, almost dusty flavor of the mixed spices, but we should have gotten some kind of dip to moisten the pita with. Also, this dish came out a good 10 minutes or more after our other food, which was a little odd. In general, service was a tiny bit disorganized at times, but that seemed to be mainly due to the lunch rush. Minor oversights (for instance, they’d run out of the napkins at the self-serve station) were quickly remedied, and the server made up for it with affability. They’d also run out of more than one of the food items we inquired about, but the choice is pretty wide. And there’s always the overflowing deli case.
To close the meal, I saw that they had Turkish coffee, as well as the wide array of coffee and sweet drinks from the True Love’s chalk menu. There’s also, however, baklava and a couple of other Middle Eastern pastries. The only one they had was what the woman behind the counter called cashew baklava, but it was finger-shaped, and the menu offers something called “lady fingers” stuffed with cashews (while the baklava listed is pistachio or walnut), so I suspect we actually got the lady finger. No matter; it was a lot better than most baklava I’ve had, dryish and pleasantly sweet rather than sticky and sickly with honey, and with crisp layers of buttery-tasting pastry surrounding crumbly, equally buttery nuts. A bite or two was enough to sate—especially after the hefty portions of the pitas and other offerings.
I wished I’d had more room to sample the salads and deli-case options, but I’ll go back to try those out—or for takeout. With lots of vegetarian options, fresh and healthy flavors, super-reasonable prices, and shining freshness, Sanad’s is just the kind of establishment that should fit in well in Midtown. There’s a dearth of good Middle Eastern food in Sacramento, particularly in the grid, and I’m glad this restaurant is filling the void a bit.