I have been a fan of Phoenicia for quite some time. All it takes is a taste of their splendid shawarma or gyro and a brief chat with owner Malek Sr., who has that dry sense of humor reminiscent of Steven Wright.
Malek came over from Lebanon years ago to get a degree in chemical engineering at UT. He went back to Lebanon with his sister to build a business but Lebanon’s clash with Syria forced them to abandon the effort and return to Austin. Sensing their time in Austin would be short they opened the original Phoenicia on South Lamar. Malek would get up at 2:30 each morning and start baking pita bread. Soon he was supplying half the city and returning to Lebanon grew more unlikely with each passing day. They added an olive selection and started making gyro meat, falafels, kafta and other goodies.
And that was pretty much it; a store with Lebanese products was added to the bakery and Malek and his sister developed a highly loyal customer base. After a while, they added a second store on Burnet which is now run by son Malek Jr. And that brings us to the subject of today’s review.
The Burnet location differs from South Lamar in that it actually offers a small area for seated dining. I do have my favorites beginning with the gyro. Unlike a Greek gyro which uses beef, Phoenicia serves the American style which blends lamb and beef and is cooked rotisserie-style and slices are shaved off, placed on a hot pita along with onions, lettuce and tomatoes and of course yogurt base tzatziki sauce.
Another dish I love is the falafel wrap. Falafel is a classic Middle Eastern deep fried patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans. They can be dry in unskilled hands but I’ve never tasted one better or more moist than at Phoenicia.
And I should mention the kafta platter: beautifully flavored kebabs of ground beef, parsley, mint, coriander and other goodies. It’s served over saffron rice along with tabouli and hummus. Every bite mingles the heady aromas along with the terrific tastes and it’s insanely good.
I’m not as big a fan of the chicken shawarma. But that’s just me and my taste. My wife loves this tender and savory chicken which is also cooked on the rotisserie. And her palate is most impressive.
There is an abundance of delicious olives at the Burnet store as well. Plump Kalamatas, lovely Cerignolas, French Picholines and so many more.
And can I mention the sweet section like the halawa, a dense pasty confection that characterizes the depth of the Middle Eastern palate. I love the chocolate halawa the best. Rich and decadent! Add the maamoul which is a classic cookie often stuffed with walnuts or dates and is a harbinger of the Easter season and you have just a few of their irresistible goodies.
And then there’s Malek Jr. He’s a fun guy with his father’s sense of humor and an engaging manner with customers. You can tell he really cares: something you don’t always see in today’s dial-it-in service mode.
Check out Phoenicia Bakery and Deli on Burnet. You will find yourself going back!
Phoenicia Bakery & Deli
2912 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
4701A Burnet Rd
Austin, TX 78756