Out To Lunch…In Tangier
By Nichole Dupont
Nothing is as it seems. Particularly here in the Northeast, where a sunny day could mean bitter cold, and a winter rain could be warmer than a summer night. This unpredictable predictability followed me to the newly opened Tangier Café (formerly the old Fuel Café spot) on Great Barrington, MA’s main drag. As the name suggests, Tangier is a Moroccan-inspired eatery, which is apparent before you even walk in the brightly painted entryway complete with gold leafing. But the distinct aroma of cardamom and other “exotic” spices really sets the tone for lunch at Tangier, which is owned and run by the co-owners of the longstanding Xicohtencatl Mexican Restaurant, Toni Bergins and Angel Espinoza Jimenez.
The menu is heavily Mediterranean. Most everything on the board (the café is counter service) is drizzled with high-quality olive oil. And fresh. My date and I contemplated the many offerings — small plates of hummus or baba ganoush with roasted vegetables, specialties of kefta (spicy ground beef slow simmered, tagine style) with poached eggs, chicken kabobs, veggie couscous, even a breakfast menu that offers a plethora of eggs with herbed sauces and vegetables — and settled on several dishes to please our very different palates. First off, a Moroccan staple of sweetened mint tea, served in a charming little silver pot and two small jewel-colored “shot” glasses.
“This is so refreshing,” my 13-year-old companion says, gulping the hot tea.
“It certainly is,” I agree, settling into the long bench that runs the entire length of the café, which is adorned with ornate brass lanterns and red “tile” paint.
First to arrive is the dolmas, stuffed grape leaves in olive oil, served atop a bed of lemony greens. The leaves are not the usual mushy texture I’ve come to expect. They are light and perfectly tangy and they pop with each bite. We devour all four within minutes, and eat the greens with our fingers, which become shiny with olive oil.
More tea is consumed and my date asks me where I’d like to travel this year. Where have I been? Where is my most favorite place in the world? As our food arrives, I realize that this is more than just another lunch in town. The server delivers up multiple plates of bright, aromatic food. The lamb burger (his choice) is served in a warm fluffy pita, crammed with greens and red onions and drizzled with yogurt sauce. My plate of roasted vegetables — peppers, zucchini, eggplant — is shimmering with the signature olive oil and served up with a few pita wedges. No good oil should go to waste, and it doesn’t on this easy afternoon.
“How’s the lamb, kid?” I try to hide my shock as my date devours his food quietly.
And I believe him because the smells coming off the meat are almost enough to make this mammal-allergic foodie want to risk it all with one bite.
Fortunately, the roasted vegetables are equally fragrant, and chunky, and inviting. They are crisp with just the right amount of char. I pick up a pepper, a hunk of eggplant, an onion, and stuff them into a pita triangle, then swirl the whole thing around in the oil on the plate.
“I like that I can eat with my fingers,” my date says.
We linger in Tangier for awhile, commenting on the painted walls and how long they must’ve taken to create. He wants to go back to the Moab Desert, I want to spend a year in Corsica. All easy dreamy talk. We are reluctant to leave, but have to get on with our day of deadlines and school projects.
I feel almost like I am betraying him when I return there a few days later and order a spiced coffee — clearly I’m chasing this fragrant nostalgia — and a falafel sandwich topped with tahini (not ultra bitter) and harissa. I am expecting the usual dry first bite of the falafel (made with ground chickpeas and/or fava beans). But once I make it beyond the crisp outside, my delight is genuine. I don’t need to wash it back with the coffee. I don’t need to do anything but enjoy the food in my belly and the sunlight coming in through the front window.
286 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.