The Middle East may be one of the most contentious parts of the world, but regardless of political or religious beliefs, everyone can agree on one thing: Breakfast rules. Because who needs pancakes and waffles when you can get softly cooked eggs in tomato-pepper sauce or slow-simmered fava beans ready for scooping? At Shish Cafe, a small but charming hideout tucked next to the Italian Pie Shoppe near St. Paul’s Macalester College, you can get a hearty, flavorful, and bargain breakfast that will make you a convert to Middle Eastern breakfasts — heavy on the veggies, eggs, and spices — forever.
If last night was a rough one, the Shish Breakfast ($9) will cure whatever ails you, because once you face the enormous plate of chicken shawarma (or gyro), braised eggs, potatoes, and fruit, you will forget your woes and concentrate on one thing: how you will finish it all. The shawarma boasts a crusty, spice-licked exterior that partners well with the layer of garlicky tzatziki between the chicken and the pita upon which it’s served. The yolks of the perfectly cooked eggs ooze slowly to create a second sauce you can lap up with the pita or use as a dip for the crispy, rosemary-scented potatoes. If you can’t down it all at once, take the rest home for when your hunger inevitably strikes again — probably around 4pm.
Equally tempting is the chaksuka (pictured at top, $9), a lovely jumble of scrambled eggs, grilled red peppers, roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onion. The garlic adds a welcome bite that cuts through the sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers, and the addition of yet another egg, this one braised, gilds the lily with its creamy, runny goodness folded into the mixture. A healthy serving of feta, olives, potatoes, and pita allows you to make each bite unique — one with a hunk of salty cheese, another shoveled into a wedge of thin pita topped with a briney olive.
Foul medammas (pictured above, $7) may be the least familiar item on the breakfast menu, but that’s all the more reason to order it. You’ll get a generous bowl of stewed fava beans, chickpeas, and other legumes in a cilantro-spiked sauce that seems a bit oily on its own but coats the accompanying pita nicely when you use it to scoop a mouthful. The plate includes a mix of typical Middle Eastern salad vegetables — cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers, and olives — that you can layer into the pita with the beans or eat on their own. While satisfying, the plate begs for one of those dreamy braised eggs to top the foul, so spring for a couple on the side.
Shish Cafe offers a host of omelets, pancakes, crepes, waffles, and the like, but if you forgo the more traditional Middle Eastern specialties, you’re missing the point. Bye-bye Cheerios, hello chaksuka.
BEST BET: The chaksuka will fill you up right at the right price — just $9.
Middle Eastern fare in St. Paul
1668 Grand Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105
OWNER / CHEF: Leo Judeh
HOURS: 7am-11pm daily
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $7-9 for breakfast