Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with a friend and we were deciding on where to go. We couldn’t decide on what to eat but we could agree we didn’t want Mexican, typical diner food, or Chinese. I googled restaurants in the area where we were driving, and a place called Jamila’s Café popped up. It was listed as Tunisian cuisine. It was right around the corner, so we headed over.
The place is a small, quaint building in the middle of a residential section. You could drive right past it if you were looking. It took us a few minutes to find the front door because it’s not too obvious. The doorway opens up into a long hallway that end up in a small back room. Well, THAT’s not the restaurant. We did pass another doorway in the hallway that had windows and curtains but we didn’t see a hostess stand and the doorway opened in front of a table so we didn’t think that was the right door. So we walked back outside and around the side, looking for another entrance. All we found was a backdoor to the kitchen so we wandered back to the hallway side door and went in. Upon entering, a man greeted us right away and seated us. Whew!
The place was wafting with aromas that set my stomach to rumbling. It is a small, intimate restaurant, with minimal decorations but had a “welcome home” appeal. There were white clouds painted on a blue ceiling and lace curtains in the windows. And if you are so inclined, they have belly dancers on Saturdays, though I am not sure where exactly they dance because the tables are so close set together. It’s worth another trip back just to see how this is accomplished. Within a few minutes of being inside, it was obvious this was a place where regulars frequented often enough that the waiter knew them by name and chatted about family and events. The waiter later turned out to be the husband of the chef, and both of them were the proud owners of this establishment. Throughout the evening I watched him personally escort every patron out the door and outside, wishing them a good night and making plans to see them again, or wishing them success on a future endeavor.
His name is Monsef and the joke in the family is he is the busboy. I will let you have the pleasure of telling you that story himself. His wife is Jamila and they have two boys. The boys were 4 and 5 when they decided to start this adventure together. He delighted us with the full story but, again, I do not want to take away from hearing it personally. I feel I wouldn’t do it justice by trying to repeat it here. I will tell you that when his wife exited the kitchen to personally visit every table, I initially thought it was his daughter.
We ordered Mechoui en Brochettes, which is grilled marinated lamb skewers, and Couscous Royal which is served with lamb, merguez (homemade seasoned lamb sausage), chicken and vegetables au jus. The flavor of the marinated lamb skewers was simply delightful. I cannot say enough good things about it. The Couscous Royal reminded me of a flavorful stew. We kept swapping out food between the two dishes because we couldn’t get enough of the meals. At one point, we ran out of the bread and Monsef apologetically asked us if we could wait just a few moments until fresh warm bread exited the oven before he brought it to us. He didn’t want to serve cold bread. When you put it so eloquently, how can I decline?
The evening was getting late and we were late for another engagement so we (reluctantly) declined dessert. But I will be back Jamilla’s, mark my words! If the dessert is anything like dinner, I know I won’t be disappointed. After dinner, and before we left, Monsef asked us if he could perform a traditional post meal hand wash with us. He poured a small amount of fragrant water/cleanser on our hands, which cleanses away the meal. It was a nice finishing touch to the meal.
Just before we left, a party of three people arrived. This was shortly before closing. Monsef was just as pleasant, warm and inviting and I could tell these patrons would receive the full royal treatment without any hint of the approaching closing hour. Monsef insisted on walking us outside as we exited. Once outside, we stood outside chatting for a moment more. As he was talking, he broke off two small twigs of fresh rosemary growing under the restaurant sign and sent us away with our parting gift. This is a man who loves his job, and it shows. The food alone will make you want to come back, but if that’s not enough, the small, friendly personal touches will have you coming back for more.