Aimer Shtaya welcomed us like long lost family members. We had never met him, and he certainly didn’t know who we were, but that was clearly lost on him. We had come to his restaurant for dinner and that was enough.
Shtaya’s Casablanca, located on Poplar across from Sherwin Williams, is not an oasis away from the Memphis hustle (and flow. Anybody? Anything?), but between the owner’s dining room showmanship and a select number of dishes, it’s worth the trip.
The chicken shawerma is a large purse of pita bread stuffed primarily with marinated chicken and near-raw onions. It’s $8 and worth every penny. The baba ganoush is also good.
But it wasn’t the chicken that had me knocking at the door two days later. It was the falafel. A plate of hummus and falafel the size of medallions for $6.50 called out to me one day after I had it for dinner. The falafel is neither too big nor too small, neither greasy nor dry. They’re the best I’ve had so far. Taking the falafel and running it through a knob of hummus, the combination is wonderful.
Perhaps more impressionable than the falafel was Shtaya. He knows his dining room even when he doesn’t, and could probably charm the stripes off of a zebra. He exudes a friendly confidence, the kind of man who walks up to a cozy couple and says, “So for every bite, did you make her say ‘I love you’?” He had words even for the younger generations.
“I have a thought,” I said as he walked up to my table. Before I could go on about dessert, he took my lead.
“I do too. In my country, a man can have four wives, but in this country he can only have one,” he pronounced.
He is the kind of man who could sell an arachnophobe a bag of spiders. He explains that his chocolate mousse is to die for (good, but not to die for) and that the baklava is divine.
Regardless of how true these declarations are or how genuine Shtaya actually is, he is king of the dining room, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
5030 Poplar Avenue Suite 7