La Shish managers bring back a treasure.
La Shish and I go back a long way--to the 1980s, when it was a single Dearborn lunch counter. After moving to Ann Arbor in '93, I often trekked to the growing chain's outlets in Canton or Livonia, frequently suggesting to any manager who'd listen that Ann Arbor needed a franchise. Charlie Bazzi's version (now under new ownership as Palm Palace, and still La Shish quality) arrived in town just before the La Shish empire crashed on accusations of the owner's tax fraud and links to Hezbollah.
La Shish achieved something extraordinary--popularizing an authentic foreign cuisine without compromising quality. And by now, enough time has elapsed that former La Shish managers Abe Tarini and Mike Ibrahim didn't feel shy about bringing it all back at Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine.
For this second act, they're using the same kebab-on-a-skewer logo with bright green lettering, many of the same menu items, and, most importantly, the same recipes and customers-are-royalty attitude. Their storefront on North Main is less lavish than the suburban La Shish palaces, but the smaller size brings an intimacy that heightens the feeling that you're getting an extraordinary gift with this fresh, bountiful, and reliably delicious food.
It starts with the most familiar appetizers--hummus that's creamy and dreamy, smooth and perfectly spiced, served alone or dressed up with pine nuts, vegetables, or meat; baba ghanoush that's pungent but never too bitter or smoky; and tabouli that literally shines--the parsley is as bright green as the Sheesh logo, and it's reliably fresh and tangy. I like to stuff it in the freshly baked pitas. Sheesh, unfortunately, lacks the open-hearth oven to make theirs puffy enough to easily form a pocket, but the sesame seeds on top and the accompanying salsa are nice pluses.
Even if you think you're not ordering much food, plan on a doggie bag. The portions range from generous fattoush and dinner salads and pita sandwiches to ginormous entrees. Lunch specials include a sandwich (all the usual choices
done splendidly--falafel, grape leaves, tawook, shawarma, kafta, and mjadara, plus meat or veggie ghalaba) plus salad or soup (hearty lentil, chock-full-of-veggies lamb or chicken vegetable, and a bold lamb chili) and plenty of rice or fries--a huge meal for under $7.50. Sandwiches by themselves are less than $4--a real bargain. My own litmus test--the dish that drove me to search out distant branches of La Shish--is the mjadara, lentils with rice and caramelized onions. Sheesh's is reliably hearty and flavorful, nothing like the soggy, onion-less variety you find in many other local Middle Eastern restaurants.
Fries are not what come to mind when you think of Middle Eastern food, but Sheesh's are crispy contenders for best in town. Sheesh is brilliant with its veggies. In every incarnation, they are substantial and carefully cooked to just the right tenderness--a delightful reminder that this cuisine is one of the world's healthiest.
Meat eaters won't be disappointed, either. I tried a dish I'd never had, called David Basha--tender little lamb meatballs that tasted like piquant sausage nestled in a succulent veggie bed. And Sheesh's sauteed chicken livers are to die for, the best I've ever had--sinfully delectable, since liver is no longer touted as good for you. But the only seafood I tried, the swordfish, seemed bland and overcooked.
There's no frilly, pretentious overkill at Sheesh--no need for it, not with these tested home-style recipes. The food is prepared and presented with attentiveness, care, and beauty--and though reliable, it doesn't ever feel rehearsed.
Don't tell Tarini and Ibrahim that the space they now grace has long been a restaurant graveyard. If word gets around, maybe Sheesh will be the place that finally expands the boundaries of the Main Street dinner party.
207 N. Main
Daily 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Appetizers $6.49-$19.99, salads $3.50-$9.49, soup $2.99-$3.99, sandwiches $3.50-$3.99, lunch specials $6.99-$7.49, entrees $9.99-$17.75, combos $12.99-$34.99, desserts $2.99-$3.99
[Originally published in May, 2010.]