Mo’ Mazza | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Mo’ Mazza 

An old Salt Lake City favorite still packs ’em in at a second location.

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Outside of a few trendy eateries in a handful of the world’s cosmopolitan culinary capitals, I can’t think of many restaurants that are too popular for their own good. But Mazza might be one of them. Although it was fantastic from the get-go, Ali Sabbah’s Mazza Middle Eastern Cuisine at 15th & 15th has grown up. Everything there improved with time: the service, the menu, the wine list, even the décor.

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Unfortunately while Mazza’s loyal clientele (and I do mean loyal'I can’t think of any local restaurant with more die-hard customers) has continued to grow, the restaurant itself has not. It’s still a tiny place where even the most dogged Mazza supporters can get worn out waiting for tables at peak periods. For those of us who have been visiting Mazza for its formidable falafel and bodacious baba ganooj since the beginning, having to wait for a table of Mazza newbies to finish up their ma’mool dessert seems maddening! But I give credit to Sabbah for sticking to a democratic no-reservation policy (except for large parties) at his restaurant. It helps level the playing field.

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So, like every other Mazza maven I know, I was thrilled to hear that Sabbah had taken over the restaurant space at 9th & 9th that was previously home to Guru’s and, more recently, Cloud Nine. A new, bigger Mazza meant more seats and, presumably, less time waiting to dig into Mazza’s amazing Middle Eastern cuisine.

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Well … not exactly. I knew the new Mazza on 900 South (don’t worry, Mazza No. 1 is open and as great as ever) would be popular. With Sabbah’s business skills and formidable fan base, I figured he’d really have to screw up the new restaurant'and told him as much'for it not to be a runaway success. And I was right. The new Mazza is so inviting and so popular that you still might have to wait for a table to dine there. I know I did.

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Of course, I figured I’d just stroll into Mazza on a Saturday night during the dinner rush and be seated. The word about Mazza No. 2 couldn’t have gotten out already, right? D’oh! When I arrived, there was an hour wait for a four-top and half an hour for a table for two. Sabbah was juggling seating requests at the front of his restaurant with gentle assurance. “I’ll have a table for you in a few minutes,” I heard him say to more than one eager customer. I suggested that he kick Mayor Rocky Anderson and his dining companions out and give his table to us: He was having too much fun, it appeared. “I love Rocky,” Sabbah said.

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So we sipped Lebanese wine'including a very tasty glass of Château Musar from Lebanon (see Grapevine, p. 42)'and waited to be seated. Most folks left Sabbah their cell-phone numbers and departed to do a little shopping nearby while we hung out at the front of the restaurant and took in the wonderful changes that Sabbah has made to the space. A new winding stone path with imported Lebanese inlaid tiles now runs through the middle of the restaurant; gone are the modernist features that made Guru’s and Cloud 9 somewhat impersonal places to dine. Beautifully ornate ceiling lamps provide soft but adequate lighting; crisp white tablecloths and lovely imported wood chairs are complemented by small vases of fresh flowers. And, even when the place is packed, every table has an intimate feel.

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For a four-appetizer-sampler plate at Mazza, $9.99 seems like a steal. I had to have the fûl mudammas'a chunky blend of fava and garbanzo beans with a hint of mint and garlic'and, of course, Mazza’s silky hummus with soft warm pita. Not being a big fan of cucumbers, I enjoyed the sfiha'a mini-pizza made with ground lamb, pine nuts and spices'all on its own. Mujaddara'a scrumptious blend of brown lentils and long grain rice with a distinctive sweet & spicy flavor'rounded out our starter platter.

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For some, including my wife, it takes a while to get used to the Middle Eastern spice palate. To a rookie, the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and such can seem odd. But I love the savory/sweet flavor combinations that characterize delicious dishes like Mazza’s musakhan ($10.95). It’s a light, thin pastry purse of Jordanian-Palestinian origin, stuffed with minced chicken, fried onions, olive oil and spices, then baked and served with a large green salad and garlic dip. And, while lamb and rice dolaas ($14.95) is my all-time fave at Mazza, this time, we took Sabbah’s new seafood platter for a spin. It was a large plate of grilled shrimp, fish and scallops, slightly charred and served with a rockin’ tajen sauce'a recipe that Sabbah keeps close to his vest.

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Superbly attended to by a server named Amy, we finished up our delightful Mazza meal with a pair of small, cigarillo-sized cashew-stuffed baklawa fingers. I think you’ll find the baklawa and other desserts at Mazza a bit lighter and less cloying than their Greek counterparts typically taste. It’s was a perfect end to a perfect evening, regardless of any table wait. It just doesn’t get any mo’ better than Mazza.

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MAZZA MIDDLE EASTERN CUISINE
n912 E. 900 South
n521-4572
nDinner served Monday-Saturday
n1515 S. 1500 East
n484-9254
nLunch & dinner
nMonday-Saturday

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