Hole-in-the-wall treasure

Tasty Greek is disheveled, but the food cleans up

Formerly a pizza parlor with far too many pizza props still in evidence (red awnings, a defunct salad bar), La Deli is certainly cleaner than Tasty Greek, but it still suffers from an inattention to cleanliness with unappealing restrooms, soiled carpets, and an accumulation of debris under the booths. But these details still can't swamp the handful of well-prepared dishes.

La Deli's maza plate, a collection of Lebanese appetizers, is simply the best assortment of eats you are likely to find in the metroplex. The hummus is creamy, light, and clean while the tabbouleh is crisp, lively, and well balanced. The labni, yogurt thickened through cheese cloth, is delicately creamy with an understated, smoothly dispersed tang, while the baba ghanouj, grilled eggplant blended with tahini, lemon, and garlic, proffered a smooth smokiness and a quietly forceful bite. Tender and juicy, the kafta asserted with a punchy blend of seasonings--almost like a sausage, but with more finesse. Falafel, deep-fried croquettes of ground chickpeas, were crunchy on the outside, but moist and fluffy on the inside and heartily dribbled with a nutty tahini sauce. The whole thing was garnished with plump, tender Greek olives and pickled turnip, which, sidestepping the balanced character of the rest of the plate, was overly salty and a little woody. The only disappointments were the grape leaves stuffed with rice and onion, which suffered from tough, chewy leaves.

Equally worthy was the shish tawook, which was not only among the best preparations of this dish ever encountered, but one of the best treatments of chicken itself. Thick cubes of succulent, sweet chicken with piquant seasonings including allspice, pepper, ground ginger, and ground clove were luxurious in the mouth. Firm, juicy mushrooms rounded out the flavors, while a side of rice and vermicelli dusted with cinnamon added an exotic heartiness to the plate.

But then things gradually slipped. The lentil soup, with mushy, overcooked lentils, suffered from a lack of dimension and substantive flavor. (Maybe they should pilfer dad's recipe.) And the salads, with chopped head lettuce, were limp and mushy, though the dressing was good.

The shawarma is most likely an acquired taste, and in all fairness, I was warned of its distinctly sharp sourness and desiccated mouth feel. The beef is marinated overnight in vinegar and spices before it's broiled and sliced. The marinade is so potent that it dissolves the fat, coloring the meat with pungent tang while making it dry and chewy. It's spread generously with tahini, but this does little for approachability, at least from the perspective of my culturally programmed palate.

Served over rice and vermicelli, the lamb kabobs were tough and chewy, but with a mild flavor. A side of grilled veggies--onion, tomato, and bell pepper--suffered from overindulgent lubrication.

Equally disappointing was the shrimp. While accented with a dusting of provocative shish tawook seasonings, it was marred by dry, shriveled crustaceans void of clean, succulent sea flavors. But the densely rich lady fingers--phyllo, honey, and cashews dusted with ground pistachios--made for a delicately satisfying finale, aptly capped with a tiny cup of plushly muddy Turkish coffee.

La Deli is a true hole-in-the-wall, albeit one cleanly rendered with a power tool. It may not have as many menu treasures as Tasty Greek, but the ones it does hold glisten as brightly as any in the metroplex.

Tasty Greek. 1906-A Belt Line Road and Josey Lane, Carrollton; (972) 416-7884. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

La Deli. Round Grove Shopping Center, 297 W. Farm Road 3040, No. 160, Lewisville; (972) 315-1409. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Dish out compliments, complaints, and tips to markstz@juno.com

Tasty Greek:
Lentil soup $2.25
Chicken souvlaki $7.85
Khalil's special $11.95
Orange roughy $3.45
Moussaka plate $7.25

La Deli:
Maza plate (for two) $8.25
Shawarma $8.95
Lamb shish kabob $10.95
Shish tawook $8.95
Shrimp $11.25
Lady fingers 90 cents

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