First Visit to Babylon

October 28, 2011 at 1:24pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

My father and I stopped in to Babylon (southwest of 48th and Highway 2 in Briarhurst Center; 402-421-1005) for lunch on Thursday. I could hardly let a new restaurant go unvisited for long when it’s located so close to my house.

Babylon serves up a variety of Mediterranean cuisine. (Menu exterior [PDF], menu interior [PDF]) Unfortunately for you folks, I know next to nothing about Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods, and I don’t have the built-in fondness for those foods that I have for, say, Mexican food. I’ve eaten a couple gyros in my life and I’m familiar with kebabs. Beyond that ... I’m not worth much. Keep that in mind while reading.

Before we get into food, let’s talk about the restaurant itself. Babylon sits near 48th and Highway 2 in Briarhurst Center. Situated in the back of the small strip mall, Babylon occupies the location that formerly held Oh Yummy, a Japanese/sushi joint. Some of the previous tenant’s decorations remain, but overall the decor is simple and sparse. All seating is at tables—no booths here. That gives the restaurant plenty of flexibility for larger parties. The down side is that with no booths and no walls in the dining area, there’s nothing to break up the space. That’s not a huge problem, but if the restaurant stays with us for a while they’ll want to think about some minor remodeling to give the dining area more character.

Service was fine on our visit. That’s pretty easy when there aren’t many patrons, but I’ve seen plenty of restaurants screw up service even when you’re the only table in the house. We were greeted warmly and invited to choose our own table. The waiter, a younger, smiling gentleman, was very pleasant and helpful. He passed the test of providing a specific answer when I asked what was his favorite item on the menu (sambusas). He also passed my father’s preferred method of ordering at a new restaurant: hand the menu to the waiter and say “You pick something for me”.

The restaurant does need to work on the timing of food coming out of the kitchen. My father’s soup came out first; then my soup and entree; then my father’s entree. Of course the soups should have come out, then the entrees after sufficient delay. Other timing issues, such as checking about drink refills, inquiring about the food, and so forth, were all fine.

Now the food. I began with the okra soup. I chose it for reasons even I don’t fully understand. I’ve only had okra a couple times in my life, and I had no idea what an okra soup would entail. That being said, what arrived was comparable to a variety of tomato soup with pieces of cut up okra. The overall flavor was tasty, but the broth was oily for my preference. I know oils are important in the region’s cuisine, but I’m just not used to it.

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For my entree I chose the sambusa, since the waiter said it was his favorite. Think egg rolls here. The presentation was nice, with the main dish placed encircling the plate and a simple salad of greens, cucumber, onions, and tomato in the center. It turned out to be a very “safe” meal for somebody who isn’t entirely comfortable with the cuisine. There were no scary, foreign flavors; no sneaky ingredients. It was basically seasoned beef inside a fried shell. It would make a good dish for a tentative beginner.

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My father began with the lentil soup, which the waiter chose because my dad said he likes spicy food. It wasn’t actually very spicy, though it did have a subtle twang to it. My father enjoyed the flavor, but the texture—while not unpleasant—caught him off-guard. The broth was thick with not-quite-fully-pureed lentils. The texture reminded me a bit of a thick mulligatawny. In any event, the soup bowl was bone dry by the time my father was finished with it.

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For his entree the waiter selected biryani with beef. Again, this turned out to be a pretty “safe” dish for somebody still getting his feet wet with the regional grub. The rice was “drier” than my father expected or is used to, but it seemed appropriate for the context of the dish. (Again, our ignorance of the cuisine is showing.) He only made it a little past half-way with the entree, but because he was full not because he didn’t enjoy it. The rest went home in a box.

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Overall the restaurant appears to have a good start in every area except support from customers. (I saw three carry-out orders go out while I was there, so maybe that’s a segment that will grow over time.) The food is tasty, it is presented very well, and portions are generous. The atmosphere, although it’s not going to win any awards for interior design, is sufficient. Service needs some tweaks out of the kitchen, but is friendly, helpful, and speedy. Prices might scare some people away, but they shouldn’t. You get what you pay for. Besides, sandwiches can be had for as little as $3.95. Still, Babylon might consider offering a few smaller lunch plates for $7 to avoid the psychological barrier that kicks in when dishes get too close to the $10 mark.

In sum, it’s a welcome addition to my neighborhood. It joins plenty of other food options within a couple blocks, including two bars, a gourmet grocery store, two bakeries, a bagel shop, a home cookin’ joint, and Sonic. A sign indicates that a cupcake shop is about to move in next door. If Babylon can get some momentum going, I look forward to it being part of the neighborhood for years to come.

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The Comments

CS October 28, 2011 at 2:55pm

Thanks for the write up. I live in College View and pass this place several times a week.

Mr. T October 28, 2011 at 3:01pm

Nice review. I’ll have to check it out soon, particularly the sandwiches.

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