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Review: Dooby's Grill Cafe - Mesa, AZ (w/ photos!)

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One of the places I want to get to before I head to that great culinary feast in the sky is Israel. I want to do all the sites and visit the landmarks as well as check out Haifa and Tel Aviv, take a swim in the Dead Sea and hike to Masada.

My interest in Israel piqued that much more when I recently saw some travelogue on PBS or Discovery addressing the various cuisines and dining options in Jerusalem. Some of it was new to me and some of it looked delicious, but it all looked very interesting.

I didn’t really know much about Israeli cuisine except that it had – not surprisingly – a Mediterranean and Middle Easter foundation. I had also heard there were a couple of Israeli restaurants in the Valley. I decided to take a test drive of one of the places and ended up at Dooby’s Grill Café in Mesa. I invited Madge and Boris along for company. Dad also expressed an interest, so we decided to make an evening of it.

Dooby’s turned out to be another restaurant in a strip mall, but that often is a good thing for us in the Valley of the Sun. We entered into the small eatery and I was a bit surprised when the hostess asked if we had a reservation. We did not, and she seemed troubled. Then, she quickly grabbed some menus and led us to a round-top table. We were handed menus and told that our server would be with us shortly.

A few minutes passed and a young man brought us water and said he would take our drink order. Madge had a Diet Pepsi ($1.75) while Dad, Boris and I had Iced Tea (1.75 each). Our server left to head into the kitchen giving us time to make our decisions.

Upon his return, he brought our drinks along with a basket of pita bread and a small bowl full of peppers, olives and pickles. The pita was hot and fresh, but the texture seemed somewhat off to me. Perhaps there was a different preparation for pita in Israeli cuisine. The texture wasn’t bad, just different and that surprised me. The various items in the small bowl were good and added a strong tanginess to our palates.

We then decided to place our order. To begin our meal, we decided to try the Hummus ($4.35) and an order of the Falafel ($4.35). Dad decided to get the Kebab Mixed Plate ($17.80). Madge loves Gyros, so she insisted on getting the Gyro Platter ($11.80), while Boris got the Chicken Kebob ($11.80). I decided to be a little adventurous and went for the Chicken Schnitzel with French Fries ($12.80). Our waiter informed us that our meals came with soup or salad. While I chose the House Salad, the other three ordered the Lentil Soup.

We sat and finished the pita bread while we chatted. I noticed that in the back room patrons could sit on the floor or on small pillows. The restaurant itself was decorated with various art pieces from the Middle East and Israel. It all worked quite well together and hid the fact that we were sitting in a strip mall in Mesa, Arizona.

There was some concern, however, about our service. We were beginning to notice that our server would disappear for long periods of time and we would have to flag him down for refills on water.

http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

After a moderate wait, we were presented with our appetizers. The hummus was in a medium-sized plate and was decorated with parsley, paprika, olive oil and olives. We each grabbed some of the pita and too a taste. Sadly, we were all disappointed with the hummus. Besides the gritty texture, the dip was devoid of flavor. We all were trying to figure out what would have made it better, but it certainly lacked the complexity of a good hummus. I wish there had been something more to it, but it was below par.

The Falafel, on the other hand, was excellent. Hot, crunchy on the outside with a soft, mellow interior, we all liked these little nuggets. They were a stark contrast to the hummus in that they were bursting with flavor. The seasoning and cooking were done right and these disappeared quickly.

After another substantial wait, the Lentil soup arrived for Dad, Madge and Boris. The sizable bowls were served steaming. Boris and Madge thought the soup was above average but they both said they would have preferred it a bit creamier through a pureeing of the soup. Dad said he thought the soup was okay, but found it somewhat bland.

My salad was a simple preparation of some lettuce mixed with bits of tomato and tossed with a light vinaigrette. I thought it was quite good. The lettuce was fresh, crisp and cold. The tomatoes were good as well. The standout was the dressing. It was a refreshing vinaigrette with a bit of lemon for tartness and a reduction in the oil so it wasn’t so heavy. I thought it was a better choice than the soup for taste.

While we waited for our entrees, we were treated to some belly dancing. The dancer made her way around the room to the delight of the patrons. I convinced Dad to tuck a dollar bill into her waistband and he did so. I then told him that for $20.00 Mom would never have to know about the belly dancer.

After another substantial wait, our server brought out our entrees. Boris’ Chicken Kebab was on a large, oval platter and featured nine large chunks of grilled chicken hugging a mound of rice in the center. On either end of the platter were small dollops of hummus and tabbouleh. Boris said the chicken was hot and tender and like the char that was on the exterior of the pieces. He said the rice was fluffly and light. He also like the tabbouleh, which he found tangy and fresh.

Madge’s Gyro Plate was a hefty serving of gyro meat topped with a substantial amount of tzatziki sauce, all served next to a bed of rice and a small serving of hummus. Madge said the gyro meat was quite good, noting that it had excellent seasoning. She found the rice to be well prepared and liked the addition of some sliced almonds on top. She also like the tzatziki but said she would have preferred to have it served on the side instead of piled on top of the meat. Considering how much of the sauce there was, I thought that was a reasonable suggestion.

http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

Dad’s Kebab Platter came with a choice of kebabs. He decided to go with the lamb, the kafta and the chicken kebabs. He was surprised that his platter came with fries instead of rice. I had also forgotten that fries can often be an Israeli side dish. I did mention that the fries were fresh because from my vantage point, I could see into the kitchen and saw someone running large spuds through a cutter. Dad tried each of the kebabs and the fries. Right off the bat, he said he thought the best of the bunch was the lamb. He liked the chicken second while the kafta came in last. “It’s a texture thing,” he said about the kafta. He said they were all good, but the lamb was a standout. He also liked the fries a lot, noting that they were clearly fresh and not frozen.

When I saw the Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, I was curious and drawn to it because I hadn’t had schnitzel in ages. But would it be good at an Israeli restaurant? My platter arrived and it hosted a large chicken schnitzel, a serving of the fresh fries, small servings of tabbouleh and hummus and two lemon wedges. I squeezed every last drop of liquid from the lemons onto my schnitzel. My first bite was outstanding. The breading was crisp and the chicken hot and tender. The lemon juice was perfect for it and I was raving about it. It truly was an excellent preparation. Oddly, some of the lemon juice had made its way onto the hummus and it made all the difference in the world. The fries were excellent. The fact that they were fresh gave them a rich texture and a dusting of the salt was all they needed.

After we finished our meals, we decided to split some desserts. Madge ordered the Bavarian Creme ($3.95) and we ordered two orders of the Baklava ($1.75 per order) for the table. Dad also ordered a Turkish Coffee ($1.50) for himself.

http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

Oddly, our desserts came out of the kitchen fairly quickly. Madge’s Bavarian Creme was interesting in that it was a molded custard-like dessert that had been drizzled with chocolate syrup. Madge thought it would be served in a cup like pudding or custard, but it was on a cold plate. Madge indicated it was quite good, finding the texture very creamy and very subtle in flavor.

The Baklava was served two pieces per serving. The puff pastry had a walnut filling and was lightly dipped in honey and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It was not overly sweet and that scored points. We all thought it was a winner.

As we waited for our bill, the owner arrived and was making the rounds at the table offering apologies for the slow service. We thought this gesture went a long way to making up for the long stretches between courses and also having our drink glasses topped off.

When we did get the bill, the total was $80.15 which included tax. We felt this was a decent value. The service was slow, as mentioned before, but the apology from the owner was greatly appreciated.

Overall, we liked the food at Dooby’s, save the hummus which just didn’t do anything for us. Still, the food was fresh, hot and well prepared.

If this is anything like the food in Israel, I am sure my stomach won’t mind.

Dooby’s Grill Cafe
2909 South Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85202
Dress: Casual
Hours: Sunday and Monday - 11 AM to 3 PM; Tuesday through Thursday - 11 AM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday - 11 AM until closing.
Notes: Belly dancer on weekends; grill closes at 9 PM, but rest of menu is available; BYOB (beer and wine only).
Website: http://www.doobysgrillcafe.com/

Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com

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  1. We went to Dooby's a few months ago for a late lunch. Service was awful, when it was there. The lone waitress told the people sitting on the patio she was too busy inside to serve them. The food was pretty bland too, so we were very unimpressed with the whole deal. The hummus was terrible. I was tempted to look up the Pita Jungle that's down there because we've had much better food and service there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Firenza00

      Firenza,

      Thanks for the input. That let's me know that the service wasn't just an "off night" thing. They clearly know the service issue is a problem, so I am hoping they will be making some changes.

    2. was the gyro meat the chicago style spiced meatloaf or was it unprocessed cuts of meat?

      3 Replies
      1. re: kindofabigdeal

        I had the gyro platter when we went, and it was horrible. All the slices I got seemed to come from the dried-out edges of the meat. It was crunchy of all things and not very much flavor. Seth's team may of had better luck, but this was almost the worst gyro I've had in Phoenix. I had it the one time we got dragged to Matador downtown, and I'm not sure which was worse.

        1. re: kindofabigdeal

          Madge said it was "regular gyro meat" but seasoned well, but I don't really know what "regular" means since I didn't have any of it. I wish I could give you a more complete answer. Sorry.

          1. re: Seth Chadwick

            No prob. I asked because my first, and the majority of the gyros I've had were in greece, where it's steaks on a spit rotisserie roasted, like tacos al pastor. When i got back here I was shocked to find that typical gyro meat was like an enormous sausage, even in otherwise very good restaurants. I never saw these in greece, though they are common in other parts of europe. I'm always interested to see how different restaurants do their gyros.

        2. I fully agree with your review. I am not sure what is worse, the hummus or the service.

          The hummus is quite tasteless and has a horrible texture. All of the hummus that I have ever had before was quite creamy and smooth, and bursting with flavor, but this seems as though they mashed it with a fork.

          I have been twice at lunch time. The first time I was alone and the service was only moderately slow. However, on my second visit with a friend, we waited so long that we were on the verge of leaving the place two times and were talked into staying by the server both times with empty promises that the food was on its way.

          When we finally received our meals we were shocked when the cook came outside and set at the table next to us and lit up a cigarrette. He said that he was sorry it took so long for the food, but they got a rush and weren't prepared. I would note that there were probably three tables with patrons inside and no one else on the patio with us.

          I did enjoy the falafel here but was appalled by the price. I am used to paying $0.50 for a falafel, but here it is about three times that for one falafel ball.

          1. We like Dooby's., Giado's next store is a frequent shopping location for me for staples at home so we'll pop in for lunch or dinner at Dooby's sometimes when we run up there. Dooby himself is such a great guy...and the food is good so I guess we overlook the service. If we go for dinner we usually go early before 5 so that may also be why it hasn't bothered us as much...they aren't so busy yet maybe that it's really bad.

            I'm glad you liked most of your dinner...but sorry to hear that service is becoming a factor there based on yours and others experience...

            1. Hi Seth,

              I really enjoy Dooby's. It's not often that you get the chance to sit Indian-style on a little pillow with your sandals off in a restaurant, lol. I really appreciate that part of it. The service can be slow, but people go there for a social experience. They want you to come in and stay for two or three hours if you like. They are very laid back, obviously, and now that the place is getting popular, people are coming in wanting a quick dining experience and that's just not what Dooby's is about.

              I do think the food is quite good. I have had the Chicken Schwarma there, and I loved it. I also love their lentil soup.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jasonaz

                I like the lentil soup a lot too. I think I like it because it isn't creamy and pureed...I like the brothiness and whole lentils as a change from what you nornally find in restaurants.

              2. I come down on th side of liking Dooby's -- perhaps because it's almost next door. Going there on a weekend afternoon for a late lunch/early supper on their patio is nice. Their lentil soup is just the thing for a sore throat.

                Plus I can get an extra order of schug to go with my pitas.

                1. -Seth,
                  You are close but no cigar. Dooby's is about a nice little mom and pop restaurant where you can go and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours. If you are in a hurry, do not go eat at Dooby's Grill Cafe for the simple reason that good food takes time. Dooby does not want to rush his customers and he does not want the food to be cold. The service and the other people around you are nice and friendly. People who walk in seem to know each other and that is the way it should be. If you really want to enjoy yourself at Dooby's, go on a Friday or Saturday night with friends or a loved one, and bring a bottle of wine. Spend time there sitting and talking about anything and everything. Sit for two or three hours and not get worked up about not being talked to by the servers for a little while. Dooby's is a subculture and you will realize it as you are sitting on your "Poof" watching people scream and dance with the belly dancer. Then you end the evening with a Hookah and a Tiramisu. Who could ask for more. Nobody should go to Dooby's feeling like they are at a place like the olive garden and just trying to eat and leave. Dooby's is the type of place that you sit around for a while and stay. So if you are going to Dooby's and you are reading these reviews, keep that in mind. The key to enjoying yourself at Dooby's is to be relaxed.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: FlowJo

                    It certainly would have been helpful to have been informed of this "subculture" by the owner or host prior to being seated so we could have made the decision to stay or leave depending on how much time we wished to invest in our meal that evening.

                    1. re: FlowJo

                      This sounds like the various arguments used in defense of the excrutiatingly long wait for a table at a popular downtown restaurant: The wait is part of the experience, just relax and don't fight it, you should be happy to spend a few hours with friends, etc.

                      In actuality, most people have busy lives with various pressures on their schedules. While they should be free to linger at restaurants if they wish to do so, slow service and/or unreasonable waits should not be part of an unwritten set of rules, and raising objections to slow service does not indicate that one is a devotee of the Olive Garden or other chain restaurants.

                      1. re: silverbear

                        I do agree somewhat. When I went, I was starving and was probably a little unreasonable in my unwillingness to wait. I will give it another chance, on your suggestion. Many thanks, Silverbear..

                        1. re: silverbear

                          In my opinion, there is no excuse for the wait, nor should there be. By design, the owner runs his restaurant a certain way, targeted at a certain crowd, and his attitude is "take it or leave it." As a result, the people that are looking for efficient service end up not coming back, and the people who like to make a night of it end up being regulars. A friend of ours knows the owner pretty well, and he told her that he's got too much business now as a result of a recent write-up (not sure if it was AZ Republic or who), and he actually seemed to be upset by it, lol. He isn't interested in growing the business into something it wasn't meant to be.

                          I really enjoy the food at Dooby's. I also value the opportunity to go to a restaurant where you don't feel any pressure to free up your table after you eat; where you're welcome to stay as long as you wish. That's worth something. As fast-paced as our culture is, it's refreshing to actually relax in a restaurant and enjoy a good meal and good company. That said, I completely understand the frustration with Dooby's, and it's good that we're discussing it so that people will be better informed about what they're getting into before they decide to go.

                      2. We were again at Dooby's last friday night. Again we live very nearby and typically go early. We arrived just before 6 and the restaurant wasn't yet crowded. The service pace was relaxed but the food came out in what still would be called a timely manner...we ordered some baba ghanouj which came right away along with some olives and feta. we were still workign on this when the soups arrived, though admittedly we were leisurely working on the dip. There seemed to be just the right amount of time between soup and entree later in the meal(though we ordered gyro and falafel plates neither of which take much prep time so maybe that's why).

                        I agree it is a place to go to and just relax, what a neighborhood place should be like. But I am disappointed to see that so many people have had service issues here. We've never been when it's during peak service so maybe that's why we've never noticed. I hope Dooby can work through those issues.

                        1. We have been going to Dooby's for quite some time. On most occasions we have left quite satisfied with the quality of food and service. Since we go often, we realize we are bound to catch some off days. The food has always been fresh and tasty. About the hummus...at Dooby's you can expect to get fresh hummus. Most other Middle Eastern places make it from a mix, or dried garbanzo bean flour which requires a lot of oil to give it that smooth texture. We prefer the fresh and like the texture. If we have ever had a problem with too much or too little lemon, they have been quite willing to fix the problem to our taste. In our experience, we have found the staff responsive and open to suggestions.

                          As for the service, if you read Our Story on their website they give you some background about that. http://www.doobysgrillcafe.com. However, when they are quite busy, you can be waiting longer then what does seem reasonable. As for quality, the fresh food that is prepared when ordered does take more time, but the quality is worth the wait. Prices for the meals are reasonable, especially their lunch entree's menu prices which also includes soup or salad. In addition to this, you get pickles, olives, schrug (something I never had before but really like) and pita bread. It's a place we enjoy going back to.

                          1. I thought I would bump this old thread here since I had lunch @ Dooby's today...

                            Everything tasted great, and frankly I wished I lived closer. The falafel rivals some of the best I've eaten in town, fried perfect and not dry, but the tahini was sub-par. The lamb kebab pita was excellent because the lamb was really tender and had alot of flavor; everything was fresh and really well done. The pickles, olives and pita before the meal was unexpected, and the olive oil/red pepper/cilantro dip is cool.

                            Service wasn't an issue, there was only one other guy in there with me; my drink stayed filled and the wait was short. Will definitely be back when I'm in that neighborhood again...