- L'Aura Montgomery-Rutt
- The Heart of Jerusalem sidewalk caf serves up solid shawarma and falafel in the heart of Manitou Springs.
Restaur-entrepreneurs, take note: Heart of Jerusalem is the kind of business that can make a killing downtown. At least during warm months. With late hours. In just the right spot.
The international, big-city charm that a solid walk-up kiosk brings cannot be duplicated indoors or with mere patio seating. People love whimsically pulling over to the sidewalk's edge for a quick bite especially when the tantalizing smell of shawarma smacks you 30 yards away from the grill, reeling you in to investigate its origin.
A little west of Manitou Avenue's clock tower, Heart of Jerusalem is neatly tucked between Colorado Custom Metal and the Shoshone Spring. Outside its window, you'll usually find a line cutting through busy patio tables.
Owners Hussein and Sarina Abukhdeir bustle about inside, performing a culinary juggling act of cooking, prepping, barista-ing, cashiering and occasionally poking a head out to shout that an order's ready.
The scene can be frantic at times. They're clearly in the weeds a lot, and could probably use a third hand in the kitchen. Wait times for food have edged past five minutes long for a sidewalk caf, if not necessarily longer than other Springs' Mediterranean places. But the high-energy environment draws people in, and kneeling, standing or lap-sitting creates a spontaneous, food-on-the-move feeling that could even be called romantic by the right couple.
And the food is good. Heart of Jerusalem's menu consists of five sandwiches, a falafel basket, "crisspura" fries (yep, they're crispy), an outstanding baklava, a too-sweet na'moora (coconut custard in phyllo), and tasty homemade ice cream from Anne & Mann's Gourmet Ice Cream across town.
Prices are fair, with sandwiches starting at $4.29. The most expensive item is the combo (any sandwich) with fries and drink, at $8.99.
Over several visits, I sampled just about every dish, as well as a couple coffee drinks and ice creams. One of my favorite things about the café is its pressed, panini-style pitas, which leave grill marks across the bread and, more relevantly, warm and bind the ingredients.
The chicken and beef shawarmas offer delicious spice, though the beef can sometimes overpower the accoutrements. The fresh-tasting tahini (sesame paste) accompanying the falafel and the Gaza Veggie Rollup makes the sandwiches though as a condiment fiend, I'll ask for extra next time.
My girlfriend quite enjoyed the hummus on the falafel basket (offering five pieces) and fell in love with the simple pickle-and-tomato salad served on the side.
The namesake Heart of Jerusalem sandwich ($5.99) steals the show as essentially a hybrid of the shawarmas, and in combo form presents carnivores the best way to get acquainted with the café.
What impressed me most: One evening, we happened by nearly three hours after closing time and found Sarina still scooping ice cream and steaming coffee drinks, with Hussein still prepping. Because customers had kept walking up, they'd just decided to stay open.
Sarina served us in her genuinely friendly manner a much friendlier manner, I must point out, than I'd maintain were I working overtime every day of the week. There's the "heart" in Heart of Jerusalem. firstname.lastname@example.org
Heart of Jerusalem Caf
906 Manitou Ave., #100, 685-9554
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily