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Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

The New Abu’s on Farwell Avenue

Middle East pizza and more

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For many Milwaukeeans, Abu’s was their first taste of the Middle East. And when the little corner restaurant opened in the late ’70s, Middle Eastern food was an edgy concept in Milwaukee, a city where Cantonese carryout was considered exotic.

Over the past 30 years, management of Abu’s passed down the generations of the Nasr family. This July, the key was turned over to Firas Jarrar, a family friend with a few new ideas. Jarrar stripped down the interior, discarding some of the idiosyncratic charm. With its new tile counter and floor, and lesser number of tables, the new Abu’s resembles a shawerma takeout place in Chicago or maybe Beirut. The priority seems to be the carryout trade, though on several recent afternoons the restaurant was crowded with UW-Milwaukee students and neighborhood folks eating in.

The pizza oven may strike longtime patrons as a shocking concession to American taste—until they taste the pizza. Sold whole ($9.99) or by the slice ($2.49), the crusty pizza is redolent of the Near East with its heavy topping of white cheese, tomatoes and choice of beef or chicken shawerma (similar to the more familiar gyros) or a variety of vegetarian toppings. And the slices are big enough to be a meal for most people.

Otherwise, the menu sticks to traditional dishes of the Eastern Mediterranean, prepared from scratch without mixes or microwave ovens. The falafel sandwich ($3.99-$4.99) is a mouthful, a pocket pita tightly stuffed with ground, seasoned chickpeas, parsley and diced pickles and tomatoes. The baba ghannooj ($3.99-$4.99), a chunky eggplant spread topped with olive oil, also tastes freshly made. Only problem: It wasn’t served with wedges of pita bread, which is always preferable to eating baba ghannooj with a fork.

The service is as accommodating and friendly as the sun after a long winter. Old-time Abu fans take note: The rosewater lemonade is still on tap.

Abu’s1978 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 277-0485 $-$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Don Rask

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