Although I always loved gyro sandwiches, which are known more as Greek food anyway, and the occasional falafel when I lived in New York, I never really sampled any authentic Lebanese, Syrian or Jordanian food until I lived in the Tampa Bay area.

Here in New Tampa, a couple of Mediterranean options have hung around, while others have come and gone, but one that might just have some staying power is Al-Sham Palace, located in the Pebble Creek Collection on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.

Samer Aljajeh, the owner-chef, and his general manager, Hadil Simreen (one of his wife’s friends), are both from Syria, but Hadil says that most Middle Eastern food is similar, because it all traces its roots to Turkey, which at one time occupied Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.

Wherever Al-Sham Palace’s culinary roots are from, I will tell you that I already have several favorite dishes.

First of all, the falafel is green inside, which I’d never seen before, because chick peas aren’t generally green, but Hadil says the green is parsley. The falafels are served with a savory tahini sauce made from crushed sesame seeds, garlic and lemon juice. Yum.

“Almost everything we serve is made here,” Hadil says. “A lot of people follow the Mediterranean diet these days. We have everything you need for that diet here.”

I also loved the shawarma chicken salad, especially with Samer’s lightly spiced vinaigrette dressing. 

As for entrées, my two favorites so far have been the lemon chicken and the mixed grill of beef shish kababs, shish kefta (ground beef with onions and spices) and shish tawook (chicken) pictured above. The hummus served on the side was slightly addictive and the veggies were nicely seasoned and the grilled onions served with the mixed grill are almost sweet.

Al-Sham Palace has all of your other authentic Mediterranean favorites, including fried kebbie (lamb or beef with onions and spices), gyro sandwiches, grape leaves, mtable (eggplant with tahini sauce), baba ghanouj, tabouleh, fattoush salad, as well as onion rings, fried or grilled fish (tilapia), cheeseburgers, Philly steak or chicken sandwiches and more.

There’s even Mediterranean breakfast items available, including Foul mudammas (fava beans, garlic, parsley, tomato, olive oil & spices) Qalaya (meat with tomato sauce) and Fateh (pureed chick peas, with pita, tahini sauce and lemon juice, as well as friend eggs and unique egg omelets with ground beef and spices.

 Delectable Desserts, Too!

For those who love baklava, Al-Sham Palace’s is homemade and delicious, but my favorite dessert so far has been the warbaat with walnuts and milk cream — and I don’t really like walnuts. The milk cream is like halfway between liquid and cream cheese and the triangular pastry shell is crisp, flaky and delicious. It’s like the best cheese croissant in town. Top either of those desserts (or haraseh or kunafa) with a cup of super-dark Turkish coffee (they also have American coffee and tea) and you’ll understand why I so enjoy Al-Sham Palace, even though I’m not Middle Eastern.

“About half of our customers are Americans,” Hadil says. “We are welcoming to everyone and hope everyone will come in and enjoy our authentic Mediterranean food.” 

Al-Sham Palace is located at 19651 BBD Blvd., and is open every day for lunch and dinner. For more information, call (813) 907-8233, search for “Al-Sham Palace” on Facebook or see the ad in one of our latest issues. The ad has a coupon for $5 off any purchase of $30 or more (limit one per table). Go and check out our area’s most authentic Mediterranean cuisine and please tell Hadil and Samer I sent you!  

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