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No-Frills Middle Eastern

Tork's features wonderful food, but it needs more to compare to other area restaurants.

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Restaurants, no matter how large or small, cheap or inexpensive, all depend on one thing: repeat business.

And I have to ask myself, after dining for the first time at Tork's Café, whether I would go back.

After all, the food--which is the main point of EATING out--was very good. The prices were reasonable (although there are no lunch specials). But beyond that, there were no bells and whistles whatsoever.

I met James Reel, The Weekly's esteemed arts editor, there for a recent Wednesday lunch. Located in a drab, older shopping center on East Grant Road, Tork's is easy to find since it occupies a space next to the street.

I walked in to find the décor fits the shopping center--drab. It seemed clean enough and featured white walls with blue trim, a color theme that matched the tables and chairs. It was an odd fit with the red tile floor. Other decorating touches were few and far between in the small room.

James and I started chatting about the journalism biz and what's going on at The Weekly. Soon, our server arrived: a big, burly guy dressed more like a line cook than a server. He was very gruff--not unpleasant, but he certainly was not a hi-my-name-is-whatever-and-I'll-be-your-server-today type of fellow.

In any case, after chatting a bit more and after our server brought us our drinks--water and, for me, some tasty Turkish coffee ($1.50)--we ordered. James got the shawerma plate with chicken ($7.95), while I got the meat combo consisting of grape leaves, cabbage, sambusa and kifta ($7.95) along with a Greek salad ($3.95). The menu--which is the same for lunch and dinner--also features gyros, lamb, sandwiches and a decent selection of vegetarian dishes.

The salad was delivered promptly. It was competently prepared. The dressing--one of the keys to a good Greek salad--had a nice zing, and the ingredients (lettuce, tomato, olives and lots of feta cheese) were all fresh, and it was a good size for the price.

As we waited for our main courses, James and I chatted about a variety of things--Margaret Regan's national award for arts criticism, the march towards our Best of Tucson issue, our upcoming redesign, upcoming stories, etc. It was a good conversation; The Weekly's fortunate to have the services of people like James.

Our server delivered our lunches in an appropriate amount of time. James' shawerma--chunks of marinated chicken on rice--looked delicious, and James pronounced it as "savory." He liked the fact that there was an abundance of large, moist chunks of chicken. He finished his plate, along with the accompanying salad, rice and hummus rather quickly, an impressive feat considering James is such a relatively skinny guy.

I was also happy with my meal. The kifta--a small, meatball-like cake with ground beef--was very good. It was moist and not too spicy: simple, yet tasty. The sambusa--a triangular, hollow piece of crispy dough filled with ingredients including ground beef and pine nuts--was delicious as well, perfectly prepared. My grape leaves were also good--stuffed with rice and ground beef--if a bit oily. The cabbage was ... well, cabbage. If you like cabbage, you'll like it. The only thing I didn't finish on my plate was the standard-tasting hummus, and that was because I was full, not because I didn't like it.

For dessert, the menu offers baklava, kunafa, cheesecake and apple pie. However, when we inquired, our server informed us that only the kunafa ($1.50) was available. Thus, we each ordered a piece of the dessert, which was accurately described as being just like baklava, except with shredded wheat instead of phyllo dough. As far as visuals go, the dessert was quite funny--it looked like a miniature shaggy dog. Fortunately, it didn't taste like a miniature shaggy dog; it tasted like I expected, with sweet, syrupy nuts surrounded by the wheat. James noted he was impressed that the dessert wasn't too dry, which could be expected with shredded wheat. I would order it again.

But here's the million-dollar question: Would I go to Tork's again? The answer: If I was in the area and I was looking for a no-frills meal at a good price, yes. But seeing as there are other Middle Eastern restaurants in town with similarly good food, similarly reasonable prices and more bells and whistles (i.e. décor and service), I wouldn't go out of my way to get there.

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