Middle-Eastern Respite

Petra Coffee House
7959 Fredericksburg
Tucked away in one of the anonymous strip centers of the city-within-the-city that is the South Texas Medical Center, there’s a small, clean, cozy little bistro called the Petra Coffee Shop. With a full array of excellent coffees and teas at reasonable prices, Petra is a valuable commodity for the caffeine-driven med student and the waiting-room-weary family member. They also serve up a small but excellent menu of Middle-Eastern sandwiches and snacks with an emphasis on fresh, authentic flavors and beautiful

Owner and chef Walid Kanakrieh brings the taste and ambience of his native Jordan to the table with images and maps of the café’s namesake, the archaeological site of Petra, decorating each of about 10 tables. Everything is made fresh in the kitchen, so there’s an individual touch to every item served.

The hand-rolled dolmas arrive on a plate of fresh, crisp lettuce with a generous dollop of thick, herbed yogurt sauce in the center and garnished with little half-moons of tomato topped with a thin slice of lemon. It goes against the grain of most westerners to eat the whole lemon slice, peel and all, but in this context it’s absolutely refreshing, and eminently decorative. The rice-and-vegetable filling in the grape leaves is mild and creamy with an ever-so-subtle vinegar edge.

The Appetizer Platter is the best way to get a broad sample of Petra’s fare. At $6.99 it’s the most expensive item on the menu, and comprises a light, tahini-tinged hummus served with tabouli, baba ganoush, and three pieces of freshly made sizzling falafel, along with olives and other garnishes. The tabouli has a slightly tart-sweet flavor that sets it apart from other versions, as does the visual pleasure of having it served on a few shreds of purple cabbage.

The real treasure is the baba ganough. Made daily from freshly grilled eggplant and just the right amount of tahini and olive oil, it has a taste and texture far superior to the canned versions served elsewhere. The Platter comes with plenty of fresh, warm pita bread to scoop up all of these delectables.

The Baklava, alas, is not freshly made. Skip it and try one of the excellent coffees, particularly the Arabic Mocha – a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and two types of chocolate, with just a hint of sugar. The simple house coffee is also excellent. Petra is open from lunchtime to the wee hours of the morning, and after 6pm offers a pipe-full of shisha options for $6.99.


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