Getting a to-go meal while grocery shopping isn’t unusual, but when dining in at the decidedly Mediterranean Briar Mart, it’s impossible not to do a double-take at what’s for sale.
Rows of canned and dried goods, teas, coffees, 10-pound bags of varieties of rice, cookies, liters of olive oil and much more line the shelves. The menu fills three chalkboards above, and one behind, the checkout counter, where orders are placed. (Food is brought to the tables.)
Unless groceries are your thing, the emphasis at Briar Mart is not on ambiance. Wandering the abbreviated aisles while waiting for meals is hard to resist, particularly since there is no décor to provide distractions.
Kabobs, falafel, dolmas, hummus, gyros, shawarma and pita are the mainstays here. They come as platters, on the side, in combinations, value meals and sandwiches. One of the best ways to sample a variety is to order the veggie platter ($9.99). It can be a meal or appetizer of hummus with pita, dolmas, falafel and spanakopita. The hummus is earthy, creamy and garlicky, just the way I like it. The spanakopita was served as triangles of filo filled with spinach and feta. Thanks to the paper-thin baked pastry layers, it needed to be eaten by hand rather than using utensils and risking spewing filo flakes everywhere. I easily could make a meal of this or the spanakopita plate ($9.99), which comes with a Greek salad.
Falafel is often dry. But while this proved to be the case at Briar Mart, the refreshing, cucumbery tzatziki saved the day for the deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas. The falafels’ exterior was crispy, not greasy. But without the sauce, they would have been too dehydrated to enjoy.
The dolmas, stuffed grape leaves tightly rolled around rice, always remind me of little cigars, except for their dark green color. These stubby treats are definitely finger foods.
Gyros at Briar Mart are a combination of marinated beef and lamb roasted on a vertical spike. The meat is thinly shaved just before serving. Again, the tzatziki was the dominant flavor. The gyros plate ($8.99) includes a Greek salad, appropriately featuring Greek olives, feta cheese crumbles, red onions and tomatoes on a bed of romaine lettuce.
The chicken kabob house special ($9.99) comes with the salad, saffron rice and pita. The bread is soft and chewy. It’s also sold in the store. Although the chicken was dry, its herb- infused marinade was evident in the flavor and threads of saffron.
Desserts are made in-house, and an order of baklava ($2.99) seemed a requirement. The triangle-shaped pastry made of layers of honey-soaked filo with a nut filling was a decadent way to end an otherwise healthy, filling meal.
Interaction with the friendly staff is limited to when orders are placed at the counter and when food is brought out from the kitchen.
The bleak décor and the building’s incongruous Southwestern architecture belie the mostly tasty dishes. A few tables outdoors don’t offer much improvement in terms of ambiance, as Briar Mart fronts busy North Academy Boulevard just south of Woodmen Road.