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Al Basha adds heat

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Sometimes you want a quick and simple lunch or dinner that’s got a little kick to it and doesn’t cost much. Let’s also say you’ve met your burger and pizza quotient for the month, so something different is a plus.

This is where a place like Al Basha, a new Mediterranean restaurant and grocery store in Broad Ripple, comes in.

Al Basha is located in the Broad Ripple strip mall that, for years, has been home to two of the Village’s most stalwart dining establishments: the Thai Café and Shalimar. In the years since those two fixtures opened, this strip has become home to a variety of other eateries and, now that Thr3e Wise Men has opened by the entry to the strip’s parking lot, this swatch of Broad Ripple real estate has become more popular than ever for hungry folks.

Al Basha makes a simple first impression. The unadorned room is scrupulously neat and clean. A few tables share the space with a surprisingly extensive array of Middle Eastern foodstuffs. Here you’ll find chilled baked goods and Labna, a yogurt-type spread, along with canned goods, spices and such basic building blocks of Mediterranean cuisine as chick peas, farina, semolina, sumac and bulgar wheat.

When ordering at the counter, you’ll find that Al Basha offers all the classics – Hummus ($4.50), the disconcertingly named but tasty Foul Mudammes ($4), Stuffed Grape Leaves ($7.99), Falafel ($6.99) and Gyros ($5.99) – as well some all-American options like a Ribeye Steak sandwich ($7.99), a Chicken Philly ($5.99) and, yes, a Hamburger ($4.99). You can also order fish dinners made with your choice of catfish, tilapia, ocean perch or whiting as well as chicken wings.

We stopped in for lunch and started with a Mazza Combination appetizer platter ($10.99), consisting of hummus, Baba Ghanouj, two stuffed grape leaves, three falafel patties, a sprinking of feta cheese and pita bread. Of this array, I found the falafel and grape leaves particularly good. The falafel patties, often overcooked and dry, were crisp but pleasingly moist and flavorful at the center. And the grape leaves, stuffed with finely ground beef and rice with seasonings, had a hearty, smoky taste. The eggplant-based Baba Ghanouj was refreshingly tart and, though I would have preferred a little more garlic, the hummus was whipped to an almost creamy consistency. Everything was fresh and tasted made from scratch.

We followed up these familiar appetizers with a variation on a standard Mediterranean theme.

Al Basha offers a hot or extra spicy version of the Gyros Sandwich ($6.99), a large pita pouch stuffed with flakes of rotisserie lamb mixed with grilled onions and a Greek raita, or cucumber yogurt-type sauce. In this case, the meltingly tender, bite-size flakes of lamb were infused with a bright orange hue thanks to having been marinated in a kind of chili sauce. The meat carried a delicious burn that echoed through the cool raita. This was gyros with a difference. If you love wings, you ought to give this sandwich a try.

My companion opted for the Spicy Chicken Ragin sandwich ($5.99). Here was a juicy pile of shredded chicken tenders sautéed with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, then topped with mozzarella cheese and a spicy chili sauce, and served on a soft sandwich roll. Taken together, the ingredients made for a robust, rather creamy mouthful, with some heat around the edges.

Al Basha has a nifty way of taking familiar Mediterranean dishes for a spicy spin. If you’re looking for fresh and simple dishes with a kick, check it out.

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