If you go
› Where: Al Baraka Bakery & Deli, 3950 Brainerd Road
› Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
› Prices: $2.50-$8.99
› Alcohol: No
› Phone: 615-509-8272
Except for a couple of years in the '80s, I've lived in Brainerd since 1970, so I'm always happy to see new businesses open in the area. When the new place is a restaurant, it's even better; and for my taste, when it's an ethnic place that's a triple win.
Al Baraka Bakery & Deli opened on Brainerd Road about a block north of Belvoir Avenue a few weeks ago in an old pub. It's not a fancy place. In fact, it appears to be still under construction in some areas. That doesn't bother me as it's more of a market and take-out place, and I went there for the food and not the ambiance.
However, because it is so new and seemingly unfinished, they are still figuring out things such as the menu and how much of certain things to prepare. Because of that, and because I wanted to try different things, I went twice. Both times, the owners were extremely nice, answering questions and giving me a tour of the place.
Al Baraka is more of a market that offers take-out dishes than a restaurant. The menu is relatively small, but there is some variety. It offers platters, sandwiches, soups, salads and sides.
Gyros appear to be the specialty as they are featured on both the Gyro Beef ($8.99) and Gyro Chicken ($7.99) platters, as a sandwich ($5.99) or a Gyro Beef Salad ($5.99). They also offer platters including a falafel ($6.99) or mixed chicken and beef ($8.99) options, as well as a Kurdish specialty featuring rice and beans with a drumstick($7.99). All platters come with rice and side salad except the drumstick dish, which only comes with rice and beans.
You can also choose a chicken wrap ($5.99) or a falafel wrap ($4.99).
Soup choices include lentil ($3.50), red beans ($2.50) and chickpea($4.50). Sides are hummus ($3.99), four grape leaves ($3.99) and French fries ($1.99).
Normally with a new place like this, I would order a dish I'm familiar with on a first visit to sort of take a baseline. I always get the Pad Thai at a new-to-me Thai place, for example. If it can't get that right, I'm not so interested in going forward.
For some reason I passed on the gyro on my initial visit and instead ordered two platters and a bowl of lentil soup. I got the falafel platter and the rice and beans with drumstick, mostly because the owner said it was a Kurdish dish, and like I said, I like to try new things.
The rice in each was perfectly cooked and the falafel was really good. You get three decent-size pieces of the deep-fried balls of chickpeas and spices. These and the soup were my favorites. I don't know what I was expecting from the beans, since this was my first taste of Kurdish food that I'm aware of, but it was not what I hoped for.
I was hoping for something a little more exotic, perhaps. What I got was something akin to pork and beans, which I like well enough, but I wanted more. Likewise, the drumstick, while large, was not anything unusual. Tasty, but not overly exciting.
I returned to try the gyro a couple of days later and I'm glad I did. I asked the owner whether to try the chicken or the beef and she immediately said the beef was really good. She was right. The soft pita had a nice flavor and just a little crunch from the grill and it was stuffed with lettuce, shaved beef, tomatoes and tzatziki cucumber sauce. It was pretty darn good and I'll go back.
I also got a big serving of crinkle fries and, for good measure, a cup of bean soup. Still nothing special. I also got an order of sesame cookies, which the owner says her mother makes. Three for $1. These are about the size of a Twinkie and taste a bit like a gingerbread cookie.
The space is pretty Spartan with a back area lined with shelves containing dry goods such as teas, rice, nuts, beans and spices. The front area features a check-out counter, a display case and two coolers full of frozen fish and meat, including leg of lamb and lamb chops.
Behind that is the kitchen area. A smaller front room to the right upon entering contains a single table for eating in if you prefer. There are also two coolers full of canned and bottled drinks.
Because it is in Brainerd and because the owners are so nice, I want the place to succeed. I will go back for the gyro and I look forward to trying the stuffed grape leaves and maybe some Kurdish dishes not offered on the menu. There are some kinks to be worked out, such as figuring out how much food to prepare each day, to ensure things are available.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.