I started eating Aimer Shtaya’s Middle Eastern food at the Moroccan Cafe on Echles Street just South of the University of Memphis in the early 2000s. Since that time, Mr. Shtaya opened and closed his Casablanca Restaurant on Young Avenue in Midtown, opened an East Memphis location, and most recently returned to Midtown at the southeast corner of Madison and Belvedere.
Mr. Shtaya, who hails from Jerusalem, transformed the interior and exterior of the new Casablanca Restaurant into a handsome and cozy place to dine. The interior is richly decorated with autumn orange walls above warm natural wood chair rails and large open windows with swooping drapes. The exterior includes two expansive decks for outdoor eating. The west-facing deck of the restaurant currently features a “Save the Greensward” banner. Thanks for the support Casablanca! The gracious hospitality of Mr. Shtaya and his staff really add to the overall ambience. After 4 visits with different wait staff since Casablanca opened in late 2015, the wait to place your order after you are seated seems a bit long. But your food comes quickly after you order.
In previous visits, I enjoyed the Shawerma Platter with both chicken and lamb, the Chicken Shawerma sandwich, and the Shawerma Salad with chicken. You can tell I like Shawerma! Of the previous three, the salad and the sandwich are my favorites.
The Shawerma Salad is a delicious, light and filling lunch option (⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2). Casablanca serves special housemade condiments in bottles to dress sandwiches and other dishes. One sauce looks and tastes like a “Thousand Island” dressing (but much better). The other sauce is a spicy-hot green concoction of herbs and yogurt. I recommend holding your Shawerma sandwich in one hand and squeezing sauce from both bottles onto alternating bites of your sandwich. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I arrived to Casablanca for Friday lunch with a craving for falafels. I ordered the Falafel Hummus Plate and a small Greek Salad with the sweet and refreshing iced tea spiced with ginger, sage and honey (also served hot). I love falafels, but I never have been able to deep-fry a falafel with success. My falafels always disintegrate into crunchy crumbs of deep-fried chickpeas in hot oil. For the falafel-impaired, I suggest using a waffle iron at home or visiting a place like Casablanca.
The plate came with five small falafels on a bed of hummus drizzled with olive oil and paprika and a basket of warm pita bread. The hummus perfectly balanced tahini and ground chickpeas in the olive oil. Placing the falafels into the bed of hummus really disappointed. I love the crunch of a freshly fried falafel. By the time I ate my third falafel, the downside turned soggy from the wet hummus. While I sometimes sop up my falafels with hummus, I really liked to dip them into the two tasty house-made condiments without tasting hummus with every bite. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Greek Salad was a light, crisp contrast to the Falafel Plate but slightly over-drenched in Greek dressing. The kalamata olives are not pitted. Enjoy their full flavor with caution. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Casablanca is just a few minutes drive from where I work, so it is a great lunch option for me. Because Casablanca does not sell or allow alcohol at the restaurant, I am unlikely to visit for dinner. The tasty lamb and beef dishes on the menu would pair well with good red wines from the Middle East and Turkey (yes, they do exist). As good as it is, the hot or iced tea just doesn’t call me to dinner. I enjoyed my lunch on Friday and look forward to visiting for lunch again.