I recently sampled some lunches from Baba Ghannouj, which has two locations—one in midtown, near UNCW, the other at the mall. Inspired by the traditional Middle Eastern dish, the name translates loosely to “pampered father.” It may have been a concoction dreamed up by a member of the royal harem. Baba Ghannouj varies from nation to nation but is known primarily as an eggplant-based appetizer.
The local restaurant is everything one could want it to be: clean, to the point of being pristine, with meals prepared in full view of the consumer. Put simply: Baba Ghannouj offers healthful and reasonably priced fare.
Their fast-service concept really offers so much more than what we normally consider fast food. Everything is prepared to order, with the exception of dishes that require slow cooking over a period of hours. Most notable, however, is the obvious care taken with the the quality of the ingredients.
I couldn’t resist the chicken curry on special. I opted for the spicy version and a side of pita with hummus. The first thing I noticed was the chicken looked, well, like chicken. This wasn’t a processed filet made of pressed chicken sweepings; I could see actual striations in the chopped chicken. It’s amazing what a difference that can make.
The curry itself was aromatic, though on its own not particularly spicy. Baba Ghannouj adds heat with a spicy red-pepper blend, spooned onto the plate. It was a little hotter than I could take; that pepper mix is not fooling around when it comes to delivering a kick.
The curry was served over basmati rice, which can be an overlooked flaw in a lot of preparations. Rice prepared in large quantities for restaurants tends to be dried out, especially on the sides, easily. Sometimes, it even turns crispy or hard. Each bite at Baba Ghannouj was as light and fluffy as the one before it. Additionally, the hummus had a nice zing from the garlic, and the cold serving offset the heat of the curry nicely.
I moved on to the chicken shawarma, which can only be described as a Middle Eastern burrito. The menu listed four ingredients: potato, garlic sauce, parsley, and of course the aforementioned chicken.
The garlic sauce basically was aioli and applied with a somewhat heavy hand. While the flavor was the good kind of pungent, there was problem with serving it inside of a wrap. I’ve mentioned this before in other reviews, but Baba Ghannouj is one of the worst offenders, so I’ll bring it up again. Gravity, mayonnaise and heat equals one very messy lunch once you get to the bottom third of it. Grab extra napkins for this one.
The soft potatoes made a nice textural offset to the thick chunks of chicken. The aioli was far and away the dominant flavor, as one might expect when placed with white meat and white potatoes. The wrap itself was quite good. The extra grilling juxtaposed soft and crispy sections. I’m not convinced that the parsley added much other than color, but how could parsley compete with garlic?
I returned once more to try the lamb platter. In three trips, this was the only time I waited. The lamb took a few minutes, so diners should prepare to give it time—it is well worth the wait. The meat itself was really high quality for a fast-dining restaurant. Tender and flavorful on its own, the cumin and allspice rounded out the profile beautifully. Each bite, whether alone, with rice or on a pita, had me hoping lunch would never end.
I opted for a side of fruit salad and again must compliment Baba Ghannouj on the care taken: Not a single slice of fruit looked to be past its prime. It clearly was chopped that day. Those kinds of details are all too often overlooked, but they make a tremendous difference.
Baba Ghannouj boasts two locations. The first on South College Road at University Commons and a second inside Independence Mall’s food court. Both locations adhere to the strict quality standards I’ve described, and I’d recommend both of them.
Baba Ghannouj is putting out meals that you can’t find in a lot of other restaurants and they’re doing it very well. I was thrilled with the speed, friendliness, and overall quality of the staff, as well as the food. They’ll be getting more of my money in the near future.
Mon. – Sat., 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sun., noon – 6 p.m.
351-29 S. College Road
3500 Oleander Drive