Wright and Green is one of the busiest intersections in Campustown. It’s also the beginning of the long stretch of shops and restaurants that you can find in this area, but sometimes it seems like the restaurants on Wright Street are overlooked. One of the restaurants that seems to be dwindling in its popularity is Jerusalem Restaurant, a small Middle Eastern place that was almost completely empty on a weekend evening. Perhaps it’s the sign on the outside that doesn’t appeal to the younger crowd. While the sign does show some school spirit with it’s blue and orange coloring, it doesn’t have the same wow factor that newer restaurants have with their modern logos and vibrant designs.
Of course, it’s not what’s on the outside but what’s on the inside. Maybe that’s being a little generous, because even the interior of the restaurant isn’t particularly welcoming. There was one other customer sitting alone at a table among the other dozen tables and no one stood behind the counter. I could hear someone in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, but it took about ten minutes before he finally came to the front to take my order. It didn’t give me the greatest impression. The dining area was, however, very clean and orderly. The plants along the windows also add a nice touch to the interior and Middle Eastern music played in the background, helping set the mood of the restaurant.
It took me a while to choose something from the menu because there are so many options, though I do appreciate the platters that are listed. These platters include sample sizes of about six items, anything from hummus, shawarma, baba ghanoug, and tabouli, all served with pita bread, giving customers the chance to get a mix of foods while still paying a reasonable price ($6-$14). Another great thing about the platters is that the restaurant offers vegetarian options. I did not, however, purchase one of the platters, but maybe I will next time I visit.
My boyfriend and I placed our orders at the counter and the wait for the food wasn’t long at all. I like fast service, but I’m not sure if this was the best sign. I like food to be warm, not hot, and I like seeing steam rising from the plate, because it makes the food appear fresher and more appetizing. I didn’t see that happening. My boyfriend ordered the samosa ($1.50) off the appetizer menu, but it’s only served by the piece. The size of the fried pastry was about half the size of a regular samosa and was a little overloaded with potatoes. In other words, it was decent, but not something worth purchasing again.
The next item was the dolmeh ($4.25), five tiny rolls comprised of grape leaves filled with rice, onions, and spices. These tasted pretty good and I liked that tartness the lemon added to the dish. There were also two slices of potato served on the side, which looked a little out of place on the styrofoam plate. Did I mention the plate was styrofoam? I shouldn’t complain about the serving dish, but that plate made me feel like I was in a middle school cafeteria. Food isn’t just about the taste and the appearance. It’s also about the presentation, something that Jerusalem Restaurant should strongly consider in the future.
Finally, saving the best for last, I got a taste of the falafil, which cost $2.75 for four pieces. There was an excellent mix of flavors in these little patties, a perfect blend of parsley, garlic, onions, spices, and chickpeas. The outsides were crispy, maybe a little more than I would like, while the insides were soft and tender. It was a good contrast and the tahini sauce served on the side is what brought the falafil up another notch. The creaminess and tangy flavor of the tahini sauce added an extra kick that really brought everything together for me.
Would I come back to Jerusalem Restaurant? Yes. It wouldn’t be my top choice out of the local places in this area, but if I wanted a quiet place to eat and a place that serves food with low prices, Jerusalem Restaurant would be an option. It seems like this place has a lot of competition, but maybe it’ll stick around for awhile.
Jerusalem Restaurant is located at 601 S Wright St, Champaign. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All photos by Madeleine Marsh.