There still aren’t many such venues here in South Florida, where the region’s much-touted ethnic diversity mostly means you’d better speak Spanish if you plan to spend much time in Miami.
But I made a startling discovery the other day via Google that launched us on a Sunday road trip about 50 miles up the coast to the city of Stuart.
|Planet Ozone & Tabuleh Cafe, Stuart, FL
It’s a community known to us – until then – as a pleasant but not very colorful spot where folks retire to get away from crowds and traffic.
Until I saw it myself, I’d have bet a whole tray of paklava that nothing like Planet Ozone could possibly exist there on a sleepy stretch of U.S. 1 mostly lined with strip malls and self-storage barns.
If the name seems even odder than the location, it gets stranger: this very Middle Eastern grocery and restaurant seems to have accidentally beamed down inside a Sunoco gas station!
|Shelves are well-stocked!
Gas-station convenience stores are common everywhere, but the convenience here isn’t just Snickers and a traveling pack of Kleenex. The aisles are packed with a truly astounding variety of specialty food items ranging from dried lentils and bulgur to meat and dairy products.
And I mean astounding: I’ve opened a million convenience-store freezer cases to retrieve a Good Humor bar or a bag of party ice. But never lamb brains.
No kidding! There they were, along with pretty much every other part of our favorite farm animal.
The real surprise was that not only were there plenty of items useful for Armenian cooking, there were actual Armenian items: basturma, soujouk, lamajoun and even Karoun madzoon.
Just poking through the shelves made us hungry. Luckily, the Tabuleh Cafe is right inside Planet Ozone.
|Lamb kebab platter
We sampled the lamb shish kebab, the lamb shank and the appetizer platter that included stuffed grape leaves, baba ghannouj, hummus and falafel.
Nice stuff! My only complaint is that the kebab was dry but it was definitely cooked to my liking: well done.
|Lamb shank platter
Planet Ozone’s brochures and Web site stress the healthy aspects of Middle Eastern cuisine, and the offerings go even further. Signs point out gluten-free and organic choices, and the menu offers options such as brown rice with lentils in place of regular rice pilaf.
We brought along our friend Aram Aslanian, who was visiting from Maine but grew up near me in New Jersey. Aram often complains about the dearth of familiar foods anywhere far from our old haunts in the Northeast.
Planet Ozone, however, had him shouting—quite literally—with glee. “They have Assadourian’s lahmajoun!” he announced to the entire store as he opened the refrigerated case.
I suggested Aram bring a cooler and make Planet Ozone his first stop on the return drive to Maine. “Forget that,” he said. “I’m coming back tomorrow morning.”
I didn’t see breakfast on the cafe menu, but they had basturma and cheese in the fridge. Seems like an ideal landing spot any time of day.