Simcha and A La Esh, Sharon
SHARON — In the years since we’ve departed from city life in Boston – and the smorgasbord of good eateries that came with it — for the suburbs south of Boston, we’ve been on the search for worthwhile, independent and authentic takeout options.
Chef Avi Shemtov has two of them right next door to each other in a strip mall on Main Street, and they have become go-to places on hot summer days and cold winter nights.
Shemtov runs two Israeli inspired restaurants: Simcha, which offers a deep dinner and bar menu as well as brunch offerings; and A La Esh, a more casual southern barbecue joint with an Israeli flair.
You might know Shemtov as the owner and chef of The Chubby Chickpea, a Boston-based food truck and catering company, and he’s the author of a few cookbooks.
And we can think of few chef owners from our new neck of the woods in suburbia who are as humble and community oriented and deserving of your support in this pandemic.
He’s tried, for his part, to make it work with great deals and specials. When the pandemic first forced the restaurant shutdown, Shemtov offered to station his Chubby Chickpea truck in a driveway in your local neighborhood. We grabbed chicken shawarma sandwiches at one stop in Canton.
In January, A La Esh marked the full-time offering of its buttermilk Yemenite fried chicken sammie with a one-time “buy one get one free” deal — a steal for two sandwiches at $16 that we couldn’t ignore. Think zhoug-brined chicken breast, soaked in buttermilk and dredged in chickpea flour, and dipped in house Yemenite hot sauce — here to stay on the menu!
And then there are Taco Tuesdays — Oh My Gawd the fluffy pita shell tacos — with Lebanese-inspired Tacos Arabes for $2 a piece, sit-in only. Or, try a package of eight tacos — along with two tasty “Zhoug-A-Rita” margaritas — offered for take-out for $25. The fillings vary by week, but we recently tasted a combination of smoked pork, shredded chicken, and roasted cauliflower tacos — the salmon were sold out.
Simcha is the Hebrew word describing the “joy” that is centered on food and family, and the ambiance of the restaurant spells comfort. The dinner menu has a wide offering ranging from stuffed eggplant to pan roasted Bronzino and cinnamon marinated steak tips. Bar choices include chicken shawarma over rice, as well as a poutine composed of smoked chicken with gravy and feta cheese over chickpea flour polenta — a creative concept, though I would have preferred a punchy salt zing from a traditional inclusion of fries over the more low-key polenta.
Try the Yemenite fried chicken, a rich sampling of a chicken leg, drumstick and breast brined and fried in chickpea flour and served over a smoked sweet potato puree. That’s what I had on a recent outing.
My wife, Crystal, had other ideas. During my trip to Simcha, she had me stop next door at A La Esh, the barbecue place that first made us fans of Shemtov’s food. This recent night, Crystal had the pork plate, with sumac potato salad and chamin beans. In the past, I’ve gotten the brisket plate with couscous mac and the hand-cut fries.
The turkey plate (not currently on the menu, though there’s chicken) was so tender that Crystal urged me to take up learning how to use a smoker, to replicate the meal. I’m still working on that. In the meantime, we will be back to A La Esh, as well as its sister restaurant.
Simcha, 370 S. Main St., Sharon, 781-867-7997, www.simcharestaurant.com. Appetizers $8-$16, entrees $22-$26. A La Esh, 366 S. Main St., Sharon, 781-806-5804, www.alaesh.com. Sides $3-$4, plates $12-$20, sandwiches $6-$13.
Lucy Ethiopian Cafe
Sure, I get that the whole point of Project Takeout is to do just that: order takeout. But the moment I walked into Lucy Ethiopian Cafe to grab my order, I longed to linger. The smell of berbere spices tickled my nose, and I enviously eyed the couples cozied up in corners where stained glass lamps cast warm light over smiling faces. Above the cash register hung a whiteboard with the heading “Learn Amharic (Ethiopian Language).” As I waited for my order, I skimmed the various phrases scrawled overhead: Amsegnalehu meant ‘thank you’; yitaftal was ‘delicious.’
I continued studying the other customers, but my jealousy evaporated as soon as I laid eyes on my order. It was one of the rare times in my dining experience that I could tell just from looking (OK, and smelling) that the food would be yitaftal.
Any good meal at Lucy’s begins with the bread — injera, to be precise. The spongy flatbread made from an Ethiopian staple grain envelops nearly every dish, from appetizer to dessert. After heaping our plates with a little of everything, my roommate and I elected to start with the kategna injera and the kik aletcha tikl in a first test of the bread’s versatility.
Without question, Lucy’s delivered. Both dishes were essentially log-shaped carbohydrates, but the flavors could not have been more different. Kategna is probably best described in appearance and taste as a cinnamon roll — but swap the cinnamon sugar for chili powder. Each fluffy layer of injera was swollen with spiced oils that held each slice together, giving our tongues a peppery kick with each bite. The kik aletcha tikl was a soothing accompaniment by comparison, oozing with split pea sauce that, though not nearly as hot, was no less savory. We devoured every piece, forks quickly migrating to the main course.
I haven’t eaten red meat in years, and while Ethiopian cuisine is largely vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, Lucy’s is lauded for its variety of beef and lamb dishes. Luckily, I’d enlisted a faithful meat-lover to help me out. The lega tibs, chunks of spicy beef and herbed vegetables wrapped in — you guessed it — injera, received immediate “mmmms,” and high praise for the meat’s melt-in-your-mouth texture.
I opted for doro wot, a chicken-filled variety of the classic Ethiopian “wot” stew, seasoned to maximum spice (my Jamaican tongue will settle for nothing less). A cursory look at the menu on my way over had forewarned me of the hard-boiled eggs — the chefs at Lucy’s are masters at balancing intense flavor with refreshing palate cleansers, and the eggs did just that — but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a whole chicken drumstick hiding in my stew.
It reminded me of the ox-tail stew of my childhood, and elicited the same sigh of satisfaction at the end.
Mediterrano, Hillsborough, N.H.
There are plenty of reasons to recommend life in small-town New Hampshire. The availability of solid Turkish takeout is, generally speaking, not one of them.
Unless you happen to live near Hillsborough, a half hour or so west of Concord. That cerulean blue house on Henniker Street, its porch strung with colored lights, is Mediterrano, a homey, congenial spot serving “tantalizing dishes from each of the 14 countries on the Mediterranean coast.”
This week, we ordered a couple of shish kebabs — one lamb, and one chicken, lamb, and beef combo. Each was juicy and flavorful, just barely charred, and accompanied by beautifully cooked rice and sweet, crunchy pickled cabbage.
The spinach pie was ideal wintertime comfort food, a dense layer of greens flecked with garlic and topped with the flakiest filo crust, not a bit greasy.
But our favorite was the meze. We could have gotten the platter, with modest tastes of a few different sides, but instead we went for standalone orders of hummus, babaganoush, and “Mediterrano salsa,” a version of muhammara. Might be too much, we told ourselves, but it’ll keep.
None of it made it to the door of the fridge. The hummus was smooth and perfectly balanced, the babaganoush smoky and salty. The “salsa” was my favorite, a blend of tomato, peppers, onion, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and pomegranate, just a bit spicy.
The vehicle for all this: lavash, Mediterrano’s enormous hollow flatbreads topped with a scattering of sesame seeds, blistered on one side, pillowy on the other. We ordered three. It was a cold night, so when we got home we warmed them back up in the oven.
“This makes me very happy,” my mother-in-law said.
For dessert, a bite of pistachio baklava — sweet, not too heavy. Bliss!
Mediterrano Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant, 24 Henniker St. #5528, Hillsborough, N.H. 603-680-4337, mediterranoo.com. Appetizers $5.95-$13.95, entrees $8.95-$20.95.
Ebisuya Japanese Noodle House, Malden
When moving to a new city, finding “our ramen place” is mission No. 1. So when we relocated to downtown Malden in 2021, we fired up our spreadsheet of restaurants to try (yes, we’re that serious) and readied our taste buds … for science, of course.
Luckily, we didn’t have to look far. On Summer Street, a stone’s throw from the Malden Center MBTA stop, was our first target, Ebisuya Japanese Noodle House. It features a small but potent online takeout menu, and all but one version of its ramen have the same vittles: chashu (thinly braised tender pork), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), scallions, red onion, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. That’s because at Ebisuya, the broth is the star of the show.
You might opt for the complex, robust, and savory miso broth or crank things up a notch with the spicy miso. Or maybe you’d like the meat to play more of a role in your bowl: Choose the delicately salty shio broth, which some ramen regents on social media have touted. And don’t forget the Shoyu (soy sauce-based). Ebisuya also offers cold noodles (basically ramen salad), which we plan to try on a hot day. No matter which ramen you choose, you can’t go wrong. For an upcharge, you can also add extra chashu, a soft boiled egg, and extra spicy sauce.
You’ll receive your ramen in two separate, labeled containers: one with the broth and a bowl with everything else. Note: Some assembly required … and that’s a smart tactical move to prevent soggy noodles.
If you’re craving a bit more food, take aim at the appetizers, especially the Japanese fried cutlet called pork katsu (a.k.a. tonkatsu) that comes with its own savory sauce. Or maybe you’re into the steamed shrimp shumai that’s begging to be dunked in its own tangy sauce. There’s also the mini choshu don with scallions, red onion, rice, and tender savory pork. Pork dumplings (fried or steamed) are also a worthy side.
Advice from an Ebisuya veteran: Despite the 15-minute promised wait time on the takeout order confirmation screen, it will likely take longer to receive your food. But in the ramen world, that’s a thumbs up — because you know what they say about good things and those who wait.
Ebisuya Japanese Noodle House, 64 Summer St., Malden, 781-605-2810, ebisuyamalden.com. Appetizers $3.50-$7.50, entrees $14.
DAVID CAWTHON and LEAH BECERRA
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