What do you get when you cross a Middle Eastern kebab joint with a Brazilian steakhouse? The answer, more or less, is the new Tannoor Grill — and it's not as outlandish as you might think.
In a traditional churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), waiters serve diners at tableside, carving slices off meat-laden skewers that have been roasted over an open fire. If you think about it, a kebab is kind of the same thing. All right, the spices are different, but essentially it's just more meat on a stick.
As concepts go, Rio-meets-Rafah is inspired. Tannoor owner Shadi Alrammal says he got the idea while he was a student in Montreal, working as a server in a churrascaria. Originally from the West Bank, 37-year-old Alrammal moved to Canada in 2002 and Memphis in 2007.
"One day," he remembers of his time in Montreal, "the chef didn't come in, so I volunteered. I said, 'Guys, I know how to do this!'"
Tannoor's signature dish is "the Turnstile" ($29.95). When you order it, you will be approached by a series of handsome young waiters carrying swords. Intrigued? Just wait, it gets better. The swords are impaled with eight different meats. Beyond steak and lamb — standard fare at a churrascaria — there are also Middle Eastern specialties like shish kebab (skewered beef) and shish tawook (marinated chicken).
The meats are deftly prepared, but for my taste, the shish tawook is best. Before being grilled, the chicken is marinated in a yogurt dressing with lemon and garlic, which lends it a tangy piquancy. The flavor is rounded out with a bevy of Silk Road spices, things like cumin and oregano, that give it a bit of heat.
- Tannoor Grill
When it comes to beef, Alrammal says that his customers prefer a steak that is medium to medium-well. But if you are of the opinion that red meat should be served red — or at least dusky pink — just let your waiter know. The chef is happy to send out a sword with some medium-rare steak on it.
Of course, there's more to Tannoor than just meat. The fatoush salad is loaded with fresh flavors — tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, olives, parsley, and toasted pita chips — and served with a delicious yogurt dressing. I was curious about the dressing — was that tahini in there? Perhaps some dill? — but on this particular point, Alrammal was keeping his mouth shut.
"Oh, you can't tell everything," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "Sometimes you've gotta keep your secrets."
For Musa Ali, owner of the new Orr Restaurant, the road to Memphis has been a long one. He grew up in Nasiriyah, a city of squat brick buildings and lush date palms in the south of Iraq. But he had to leave in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein began bombing the city.
"It still hurts, man," Ali confesses. "I don't like to talk about it."
For the next six years, Ali and his family lived in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. At last, in 1998, they were given refugee status in the United States.
On October 1st, Ali opened Orr at the corner of Summer and Mendenhall. For Memphians, it's a rare and tasty glimpse into authentic Iraqi cuisine.
Start with the basics. At Orr, the falafel fritters ($5.99) are donut-shaped, so that they are cooked evenly throughout. The result is herbed and delicious: brown and crunchy on the outside, green and fluffy on the inside.
But let's face it: you can get falafel in just about any country within a day's drive of the Euphrates River. If you want to taste something specific to Iraq, try the Lamb Kowzi platter ($12.99), a regional delicacy.
Served on a bed of long-grain rice, the Kowzi comes with a green salad and a small bowl of fasoulia (white bean soup). The lamb itself — a jumbo leg flavored with raisins and roast nuts — is cooked very slowly, first braised for a period of hours, then flash fried. The meat is lovely, dark and sweet — just like Jaddah (Arabic: "Grandma") used to make. But be forewarned: Because the dish takes so long to prepare, once they run out, they're out.