COLUMNS

Table Talk: Zaytoon owner strives to serve 'perfect' food fast

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
Muhannad "Mo" Jalaq has opened Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill, 5450 Westpointe Plaza Drive in west Columbus.

It might seem that Muhannad "Mo" Jalaq has impossibly high standards, especially for a restaurant owner.

A self-described picky eater, his food has to be "more than perfect," Jalaq said.

"If I'm not 100% satisfied with what I'm eating, I won't sell it," said Jalaq, who has opened Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill at 5450 Westpointe Plaza Drive in west Columbus.

"I always tell people, if you don't like it, return it," he said. "I will eat it."

Zaytoon, which means "olive" in Arabic, is a quick-serve restaurant in the style of Chipotle.

Jalaq said he uses saffron-seasoned basmati rice for the base of one of his bowls, and he imports spices for authentic Palestinian flavors. His hummus and falafel are homemade, starting with a foundation of dried – not canned – chickpeas.

Meals are served in bowls or a pita wrap that start with rice or salad, followed by a choice of protein, vegetables, toppings and sauces, one of which is sumac and olive oil.

No item costs more than $9.50.

"The concept, the idea, is fast," Jalaq said.

He said he is not stingy with portions, adding "I love to give."

Zaytoon is among a growing number of restaurants using house-seasoned, spit-roasted meats like lamb and beef (gyro) and chicken (shawarma).

Zaytoon features a few Middle Eastern dishes that are rare in Columbus, such as sambousek (pockets of dough filled with vegetables) and kibbeh (deep-fried, oval-shaped croquettes made of bulgur wheat, finely minced beef and seasonings).

Jalaq also makes chai tea with milk and spices.

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For more information, call 614-363-4131.

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Pho Le, a Vietnamese restaurant, will add to the culinary diversity of Columbus' Northland neighborhood when it opens in a month or so at 1623 Morse Road, just east of Karl Road.

It will join Afra Grill (Somali) and Couscous House (Moroccan) in serving the area.

Pho Le's owner Alex Le (pronounced Lee) said all soups would be cooked from scratch. The restaurant, with seating for 39, also will offer banh mi sandwiches and rice platters.

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The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted nonprofit Freedom a la Cart to delay until October its move to downtown Columbus.

But the organization, which employs survivors of human trafficking, is launching a new service, Freedom at Home, that will offer a meal a week to those who sign up for the plan, said Paula Haines, CEO of the group.

Expected to start in mid-July, people can register for theme dinners -- pastas, grilled dishes and focaccia pizza, for example -- starting at $25 for two, plus a $5 delivery charge. When it goes live, the link will be posted at freedomalacart.org. The meals will be parcooked, so some assembly will be required.

The organization still offers family meals and boxed lunches to pick up at its current headquarters, 5000 Arlington Centre Blvd. on the edge of Upper Arlington. A fee of $50 is charged for all deliveries, and 48 hours advance notice is recommended, according to the web- site.

For information, call 614-992-3252.

The plan is to move the facility, to be called Freedom a la Cart Bakery + Cafe, to 123 E. Spring St.

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The opening date of Chapman's Eat Market, which would replace the long-departed Max & Erma's at 739 S. Third St. in German Village, has not been determined.

"We're still very much in a hang-tight situation," chef and owner BJ Lieberman said. "I have no concept of an opening date right now."

The site most recently was occupied by Wunderbar and Pierogi Mountain.

Coworking offices remain on the upper floors.

The menu items represent a range of influences, including Charleston, South Carolina, where Lieberman spent several years, and Jewish favorites. Ice creams made in-house also are planned.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary