Woe is Squirrel Hill, or so Munch reads in the PG. First Panera packs up, then Barnes & Noble bolts. Is nothing sacred on Murray Avenue? What's next? Rite Aid? Coldstone? Mineo's?!!!
No, there's hope, as Munch reads on. The independent stores are going strong. And, Munch thinks, it doesn't get much more independent than that tiny storefront with the cheery yellow awning on Murray Avenue. So Munch decided to give Taza 21 a try.
As luck would have it, Finishing Her Dissertation Friend of Munch was grinding away at the Squirrel Hill library, and was happy to join Munch for a lunch break. Taza 21 is as clean and bright inside as it is out, with bright mustard walls and four tightly packed tables.
If you're wondering, who or what is a Taza, well, it's right there on the menu. "Taza is the Arabic word for 'fresh' & you will taste it in every sandwich!"
Owner Frank Abraham waited two decades to bring Syrian food to Squirrel Hill. And when Munch and FHDFOM walked into Taza 21 and started to decipher a large menu offering wraps of all shapes and sizes, Mr. Abraham popped up behind the counter and gregariously offered to recommend a dish.
Munch requested chicken. Mr. Abraham recommended chicken schwarma ($7).
FHDFOM requested lamb. Mr. Abraham recommended lamb schwarma ($7).
As the good folks at Staples say, that was easy. Though not surprising, given that Taza 21 bills itself as "A Schwarma Cafe."
Schwarma is somewhat like a gyro -- marinated meat shaved off a vertical spit and rolled in flatbread with parsley, onion and tomatoes.
Munch's chicken schwarma ($7) was delicious -- packed with crispy chicken bits and studded with fresh veggies.
If only Munch could figure out how to dip the wrap in the tangy yogurt sauce without morsels of chicken falling out.
Munch was completely satisfied with the schwarma, and happy with the banana-strawberry "fruit cocktail" blended with milk and honey. But there were so many tasty looking delicacies on the menu that Munch ordered a few things to go. Munch couldn't resist, for example, a couple of "homemade pies," at $2 a pop, and a beet and spinach salad ($7).
The salad was tasty but the pies were a revelation, particularly at that price. Seriously, they are the holy grail of cheap food. The cheese pie, for two measly dollars, was a substantial folded pita stuffed with Syrian cheese, red onions and dill.
One cautionary note about Taza 21. It may look like a take-out joint, but it is in no way fast food. Maybe Munch just dined on a slow day, but Munch and FHDFOM's schwarmas easily took 20 minutes, if not more. "Are they slaughtering a cow back there?" asked FDHFOM at one point, getting grumpy after too much time away from the library.
But here's the thing, in Munch's humble opinion. You want fast, you can get fast. A salty chicken soup and an overpriced sandwich will only take a minute or so at, say, Panera. Just not in Squirrel Hill.