Phoenician Kabob: East Colfax Avenue Oasis

phoenician kabob denverDodgy characters and a hodgepodge of storefronts have long characterized East Colfax Avenue in Denver. But we love the busy street for all her charms.

Nearly hidden among these haunts at East Colfax Avenue and Ivanhoe Street, Phoenician Kabob is a cozy Lebanese restaurant that brings a breath of fresh air on this side of town. We don’t know what we love more about this elegant little restaurant, the fresh, innovative cuisine, the awesome selection of Lebanese booze, the owner’s infallible charisma or the fact that this little eatery has its own pastry chef creating some of the most amazing shortbread cookies, baklavas and French confections in town.

phoenician kabob entree
The Phoenician Kabob features delicious Lebanese cuisine.

Lebanese cuisine includes many of the Middle Eastern mainstays available at the hummus and shawarma joints, but Phoenician Kabob has an edge – maybe more than an edge, as chef/owner Ibrehim Dahleh has pulled out the stops for this delicious restaurant.

What makes this restaurant, with its menu full of familiar standbys like stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush and tabbouleh, so much more appealing than the others?

Dahleh’s dream restaurant offers the flavors of his home with fresh ingredients and recipes “stolen” from his mother’s kitchen. Not long after opening his restaurant, Dahleh, a civil engineer by trade, traveled to Jordan, where his family had moved years ago.

Every morning of his eight-day visit, he and his mother would record her recipes. While shopping for cookbooks and spices, he discovered the gadgets and recipes of a food culture that thrives and evolves in the Middle East.

And so, armed with his mother’s heirloom recipes and loads of data on contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine, he returned to his new Denver restaurant on East Colfax.

Dahleh makes innovative dishes from his stash of Lebanese and Jordanian recipes as nightly specials for Phoenician Kabob. He uses vegetables indigenous to the Fertile Crescent, such as molokhia, a leafy green often used in saucy specials at Phoenician Kabob. Since these veggies aren’t available through regular restaurant distributors, he sources them from a small grower just outside Denver.

What’s cooler than unheard of Middle Eastern dishes flanked with exotic veggies? Well not much, but hot deals on trendy wines are definitely fun. And, lucky for Dahleh, Lebanese wines are all the rage in the cork dork community. Lebanese winemakers’ well-crafted bottles of French favorite and ancient Lebanese varietals have been making serious waves in the wine-loving community in recent months. Phoenician Kabob stocks several varieties to try.

kabobs in denver colorado
Delectable meats like lamb or beef are spiced to perfection with Middle Eastern flair.

Dahleh is particularly proud of his large selection of Lebanese Arak, a syrupy liqueur flavored with anise and served on the rocks. The bar stocks Lebanese beers along with plenty of more familiar labels.

For this foodie, the test of Middle Eastern restaurants is all about the kibbi. These yummy appetizers consist of spiced ground meat (lamb or beef), wrapped in a crispy dough of bulgur wheat and spices and served with minted cucumber yogurt sauce. Dahleh shared details of his recipe, well some of them. His kibbi are flavored with pinenuts, another telltale sign of a reputable kibbi creator, and pomegranate molasses.

We devoured the tender rack of lamb, spiced with nutmeg, cardamom and oregano, refreshed ourselves with the lemony fettoush salad and grazed a huge veggie platter of all the traditional favorites: hummus, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, falafel and rice. The rice, surprisingly, was among our favorite dishes – long-grain basmati, light, toasty and scented with cardamom, cinnamon and the sumac Dahleh’s family sends him from Jordan.

Jalal Hesan, pastry chef of Phoenician Kebab, has been making pastries full time for 15 years. And since he’s only 30, that says a lot about his commitment to his craft.

5709 E. Colfax Ave
The restaurant’s pastry case is stuffed with sweets.

He stuffs the restaurant’s pastry case with sugary treats like teeny-tiny shortbread cookies filled with dates and itsy-bitsy cup-shaped baklavas made of fresh phyllo dough, honey and cashews, along with fat lemon cakes with pistachios and gooey chocolate éclairs. Don’t miss the thick rich Turkish coffee finale.

Belly dancers entertain customers on Saturday nights starting at 8 p.m. Arrive early to get a good seat.

If You Go

Phoenician Kabob
5709 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, Colorado 80220