Food can be a means of remembering moments in time: a sense of nostalgia. On the other hand, such experiences can also inform us of things with which we aren’t otherwise familiar. Taste of Jerusalem Café is a Middle Eastern restaurant with a mission to connect people from all over the world through a delicious and varied selection of food, all in a comfortable and welcoming environment.
The owner, Abdul Nasser, is originally from Yemen. He moved to Colorado Springs in 1995, where his cousin was already living at the time, and opened Taste of Jerusalem in December 2007. Nasser worked in the food and beverage industry in Michigan for some time prior to the opening of Taste of Jerusalem, “There are lots of Middle Eastern restaurants and culture there,” he said.
Although this cuisine is not as prominent in Colorado Springs, several other Middle Eastern restaurants exist in the area, so each restaurant must find ways to set itself apart. “Each person has their own spin, you know, their own touch to the food,” Nasser said, stressing the importance of authenticity in his cuisine. Nasser talked about the significance of certain spices in Middle Eastern dishes, as well as his use of old family recipes.
Ultimately, it is the energy put into cooking that seems to make the difference. “When you cook something from the heart, it goes to the customers and they love the food, so that is what matters. We make the food with love, you know,” Nasser said. In the small restaurant setting with red booths and regular tables, two large murals painted on each side wall, one server, and two chefs (Nasser and his wife, Roqiah Nasser), it is impossible for the restaurant to lack the connection of which he spoke.
“We have everything for everybody,” Nasser said, drawing attention to the vegan, vegetarian, and meat- lover options on the menu. The variety of options is somewhat overwhelming—the appetizers consume almost an entire page of the menu. From salads and fried shrimp, to falafels, dolmas, and a selection of dips, one could fill up entirely on starters. The dolma consists of six bite-size pieces of grape leaf-wrapped rice with pickle juice and served with a fresh tzatziki sauce for dipping. The baba ghanoush was another recommended appetizer—although the waitress proceeded to recommend absolutely every appetizer, claiming they were all delicious. It is made with fresh eggplant and served on a small plate with warm pita bread on the side.
Entrees consist of a selection of kebab plates, various grilled, baked, and roasted meats, house special and vegetarian plates, and a long list of sandwich options. The ultimate special plate comes with a mix of marinated lean beef, lamb, and chicken breast, all cooked to a perfect consistency, as well as a few falafels with fresh hummus, warm pita bread, and a small salad on the side. This dish contains just the right amount of food for one person to leave feeling full and satisfied, but not over-satiated. And if needed, extra tzatziki and other dips are available for just an extra dollar or two.
The menu offers several shared plates, as well as single servings, and most main dishes cost just around 10 dollars. Although Taste of Jerusalem doesn’t serve alcoholic beverages, they offer a selection of drinks and teas, such as their delicious sage tea. Taste of Jerusalem also offers an easy and accessible online ordering system, or a quick take-out option for customers without ample time to dine.
I asked Nasser about the mural covering the side wall — a vibrant combination of blue, green, and gold — depicting Old Jerusalem City. “If you look at the mural on the wall,” Nasser said, “it shows all of the religions, all the mosques, Christianity and the churches and all of that. You know, it’s the Holy Land. This is to welcome everybody. We have no racism in our community and our establishment.” The center of the mural reads, “Co-Exist.” Although Colorado Springs is not the most international of cities, Nasser welcomes customers from everywhere, calling for the importance of opening a space for an international community, “We have the international students here in town, they go to UCCS, Colorado College, Pikes Peak, so that kind of makes it more for us.”
Ammar Naji, a professor in CC’s Arabic Department, mentioned Taste of Jerusalem’s involvement in CC campus life, “[They’ve] been helping CC to get different tastes of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “When [Nasser] is doing it, he really does it in an authentic way,” Naji continued, remembering a time when Nasser baked homemade bread for a catered CC event.
Nasser recognizes the way in which food can stand as a means of connecting people from all around the world and uniting them within one welcoming and intentional space. Not only is the food delicious and served quick and fresh, but the service is incredibly intimate and kind. Also, if you rate the restaurant on Facebook, Yelp, Google, or any other online engines, you get a free baklava, “A rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey.”