Hookah buzz has filled local food blogs since Stephen Pyles brought Samar to Dallas, cementing a trend already adopted by eateries including Al Amir, Kush Mediterranean Grill & bar and Urban Café & Bar. Yet most restaurant reviewers have kept their focus on the food, perhaps pausing to note how nice the hookah smoke smelled while they ate.
But could hookahs contribute more to the dining experience?
Bill Abusad, the general manager at Kush, became what he calls an "A-class hookah expert" when he opened his restaurant on Lower Greenville Avenue.
Kush is one part nightclub, one part restaurant and one part hookah lounge. Abusad said Kush serves an equal amount of food and hookah, although drinks remain the biggest seller. According to server Tatiana Vidikis, on busy nights, Kush will serve 50-80 hookahs.
Kush's hookahs sport come in traditional fruit flavors, such as orange and peach, and interesting combos with exotic names like Absolute Zero and Kush Flavor.
"My favorite's Absolute Zero," Abusad said. "It's very dramatic and has a heavy mint and menthol flavor to it."
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The Kush Flavor mixes together orange, mint and melon, a combo available at most hookah bars. But the sensation of wolfing down a huge-ass gyro wrap with a plateful of seasoned French fries while sucking on a hose of orange-flavored nirvana is unique to hookah bars with kitchens.
Hookah users can create their own gastronomic experiences too: Abusad said he's seen people pour milk and French Vanilla creamer into their hookahs to give their tastebuds a little something extra. Some folks like to mix a little Jack Daniels in there too. And over in Fort Worth, Fusion serves Skittles to Sour Syzzler puffers: That's a helluva way to taste the rainbow.
Abusad believes there aren't any strict rules governing food and hookah pairings. That's not how it works. You choose the food and tobacco flavor that most appeals to you, and find your own way to enjoy them.
Places like Kush, Samar and Urban Café are gateways into shisha culture. Whereas the big advantage of a strict hookah bar is usually its BYOB policy, the food-and-drink dynamic appeals to those who aren't interested in just smoking for a couple of hours - or wonder what effect rose-flavored tobacco might have on a plate of fried haloumi.