Outside of the convenience, there's a lot to be said for the nostalgia inspired by walking to a corner spot to grab grub. It's one of those things our city's layout has mostly prevented; such places are rare enough that the opening of a nearby 7-Eleven can seem like a pretty neat thing.
Included in that hankering for the way things used to be is the longing for a certain attitude, and you'll find it in spades at the Westside International Restaurant, Deli & Mart. Nothing gets by owner Michael Ezzat, a tall man with a bushy moustache who asks regular customers why they haven't visited in a while, and remembers individual orders. The former owner of Manitou Springs' Nile Café not only gave us two free slices of baklava, and what he called Egyptian tea, on our first visit — sending us out the door with full foam cups, not to mention a few handshakes and back pats — but he threw in a couple bottles of water when we took a few sandwiches to-go the next trip.
And in spite of a pretty big menu featuring a unique mix of Italian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, the corner spot's more mart than anything else. A few booths and tables sit in front of a counter full of cigarettes, lighters, a fax machine, cell phone accessories, glass pipes and the like. On one side of a partition sit five or six shelves full of off-brand household staples; on the other, an open grill bordered by a counter and stools. A small glass deli case is wedged in there somewhere.
It's a tight, cozy fit that's pretty enjoyable to dine in, though the food's appeal is more about its cheapness and convenience than its quality. For instance, I wasn't expecting the beef, lamb and chicken in the mixed grill ($9.99) to each come in long, homogeneous-tasting oval slices, like compressed deli meat. The sides were good, though: a soft, mild hummus with a sprinkling of olive oil, creamy grape-leaf dolmades and little triangles of good seasoned pita bread.
The falafel platter ($8.99) offered the same, subbing great homemade falafel — small, reddish, crunchy rounds of cumin-laced spice — for the meat. We also ate some nice, house-battered calamari ($6.99), lightly fried with a good marinara. And a small cup of Turkish coffee, called Arabic here, tasted perfect, like the gritty runoff from a bean-driven engine.
Sandwiches also worked pretty well, though the over-toasted chicken Parmigiana ($6.99) was more dense and cheesy than bright and crispy. The hot turkey melt ($5.99) might have sported some darkened avocado slices and the barest hint of tomato, but the sliced meat was juicy between some strong, well-toasted rye.
We took the staples — the lamb gyro ($5.99) and the Half & Half ($6.99) — to go, and they held up fine. The Half & Half, beef slices with falafel, feta cheese, romaine, tomatoes and onions, was the best for those who care about texture, but the lamb gyro offered little to argue with. It generally tasted fresh, in a decent pita pocket, and was hot and available right on the corner.
I may not drive across town for the food found here, but then again, thanks to Ezzat — who won't take no for an answer when it's time to refill your coffee — I may.