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Oct 16, 2009 11:45 AM

El Sham - middle eastern - Hamilton (Mercer Co) NJ

This new middle eastern restaurant opened yesterday on S. Olden Ave near I-295. We were there for lunch today and not disappointed. A storefront strip mall restaurant with a counter and about 8-10 tables. Excellent food served on plastic plates after ordering at the counter. We tried the vegetarian mixed platter (hummus, grape leaves, and very, very good falafel served with bulgar wheat & onions [rice also an option]) and the lamb shish kebab combo with rice, tabouleh & yogurt salad. All very good. The lamb was tender and spiced in some way I can't describe but enjoyed. Hot tea was only lukewarm, the only disappointment. The desserts are to die for: top quality baklavah, basbusa & kahnafea! Not at all a fancy place, but very clean, and the food is quite good

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      1. Do any of the posters know how this place compares to other middle eastern restaurants like Marhaba in Lambertville or Ibby's in Freehold?

        2 Replies
        1. re: glutton

          Anyone remember what their hours are, I didn't see them on the web site?

          1. re: glutton

            I answered my own question by eating at El Sham last night with my wife and friend. It is definitely not on par with Marhaba or Ibby's. In fact, it was all in all a pretty lousy meal. I say that for two reasons:

            Food: We ordered hummus, baba ghannouj, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, falafel, and chicken shawarma. The hummus and baba ghannouj were fine, but honestly not much different than what I could buy at a grocery store. The grape leaves came out of a can. The tabbouleh was different, and not as good, as what I've eaten at other restaurants -- it was more of a pasta dish and less of a salad of parsley, etc. The falafel was pretty good. The chicken shawarma was terrible -- dry, overcooked, bland.

            Value: This is not a fancy restaurant and that's fine. You order at the counter, the food is served on styrofoam plates, and there's little to no ambiance. All of that does not bother me in the least. However, the prices they charge are more expensive than places with waiter service, linens, ambiance, etc. The combo plates were $15 and we got some lousy chicken shawarma and two sides (hummus, tabbouleh, etc.). The sides were tiny. To charge fifteen bucks for that is highway robbery. I'm not usually the guy that complains about value at restaurants -- it's a tough business to make a nickel, so I'm usually content to pay a bit extra to keep a good restaurant in business -- but this was over the top.

            I don't think we'll give this a second chance. We've got Marhaba and Ibby's close enough and if we're looking for great middle eastern food, we can head up to Patterson (as we did today, in a desperate attempt to erase bad memories of subpar baba ghannouj).

          2. After reading the reviews on Chowhound, we decided to try El Sham today for lunch. We both took the day off from work today, and it was very fitting being our anniversary. After watching the Rick Steves episode on Iran this morning, I was craving some middle eastern cuisine, and this was th perfect fit for my cravings!

            El Sham is just a 10 minutes drive or so for us, so it was nice and close. The place is in a strip mall, and I have no idea if this is a new strip mall, or if it has been there for a while. As you walk in, the counter where you order is tucke into the back ledt hand corner. In the front of the restaurant, 8 tables occupy the open space. The walls are a light blue color, and the restaurant is trimmed out in yellow. The place may not be fancy or romantic, but I can tell you that it is clean! You can eat off the floors in here, and it just loks pristine. They also have nice dark colored tables, and the place is no frills.

            For lunch, we started out with the hummus, that was served with a nice light oil on top, some green herbs, and 4 fresh pita slices. This was very nice, and I could eat a ton of it. For an appetizer, it is the perfect portion, and I actually left a little on the plate to use on my sandwich.

            Zelda opted for the falafel sandwich, which was a nice sized portion, with lettuce, tomato, and a tahini sauce served in a pita. She said that this was much better than the last one that she had at Moustache in Lambertville before they closed. From the bite that I had, the spices were very nice, and this had some damn good flavors to it!

            I opted for the shish kabob sandwich, which was a nice grilled lamb cubed and seasoned. Let me tell you that this was awesome! The lamb was hot off the grill, and when I say hot, I mean hot! It was served with a nice lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce. The seasonings on this were absolutely perfect, and I love the hot temp on the lamb. It was cooked perfectly, and was just damn tasty. I added some hummus to the sandwich, and I recommend doing the same. It makes for a nice combo.

            All in all, for $20 with a couple of sodas, this made for a bargain lunch! The ambiance isn't the fanciest, but what is important is that the food is authentic, and damn good! We definitely plan on going back and I look forward to trying one of their many different platters, and Zelda looks forward to tryng their falafel plater or vegetarian mixed platter!

            It's nice to have a new place like this in the area, with goo service, and great food! Kudos to the crew at El Sham!

            El Sham
            1641 South Olden Avenue
            Hamilton, NJ 08610
            Phone: (609)931-0513
            Fax: (609)931-0514


            2 Replies
            1. re: njfoodies

              Do they make their own pita? Is it anything like Aladdin's pita back when it was under the old management? I could've made a meal just out of the pita and hummous or fuul. I miss it! But, anyway, to my point, is it like that at all or more like regular sized pita from the store?
              brownie (who should be called hotbreadfanatic, I think!)

              1. re: brownie

                They serve the same pita you could buy in a store. They could at least warm it up, but no such luck.

            2. Finally got to this place... my take:

              The good:
              - Falafel - very flavorful, delicious
              - Foul Mudammas - Also delicious, could be a Tuscan bean dish
              - Baklava - Extremely fresh, not drowned in sugar syrup, nice and crispy
              - Hummus - Also extremely fresh, with very nice olive oil

              The not-so-good:
              - Shwarma - Both lamb and chicken had too much nutmeg for my taste
              - Kababs - Chicken & lamb were both a bit dry, Kofta was good

              All in all, very nice. I'll definitely be back for the vegetarian options.

              2 Replies
              1. I understand that I might have gotten a bad meal when I was there -- that happens sometimes, even to the best of restaurants. However, I am very surprised that nobody else thinks that $15 for a skimpy "platter" is too much. Their version of a "platter" is just one of those styrofoam plates that is divded into three sections -- just like what you buy at the grocery store. Put a little scoop of hummus in one section, a scoop of baba ghanouj in another section, and finish it with a big pile of rice and a small handful of chicken shwarma sprinkled on top. That's what they're calling a combo platter and they want $15 for that. Compare that to what you get at Ibby's in Freehold, Marhaba in Lambertville, or any of the places in Paterson and I think you'd agree that it's overpriced.

                1. re: glutton

                  Yeah Glutton. The prices of the combos strike me as a bit on the high side. I went back: lentil soup was a bit thin. Falafel still very good.