by Eric Ginsburg
He could barely contain himself.
“Oh my god,” Anthony said immediately after taking his first bite of beef and lamb meat, before slumping and putting his forehead in his palm in a complete state of disbelief. Taking a moment to gather himself while chewing he said, “This is amazing. How have I never been here before?”
I laughed, amused at his utter shock and comical joy, before he muttered under his breath again: “Oh my god.”
We like to make fun of Anthony, our sports writer and intern, around the office for his frequent and verbose ravings about Mediterranean food around his native Greensboro, but even though he’s about to turn 27 (as he likes to remind us), Anthony “Wayno” Harrison had never been to Nazareth Bread Co. until this week.
And my, what an experience it was.
There’s nothing quite like that first bite of shawarma or gyro meat at Nazareth, but even though it’s my favorite Mediterranean spot in the Gate City, I’m here infrequently enough that each return visit, the shawarma takes me by surprise.
Because that’s what I order these days, every single time, despite having tried and thoroughly enjoyed the Alexander gyro kabob that Anthony ordered, the veggie kabob platter and the chicken kabobs. The shawarma platter is just too good to turn down.
The sliced beef is seasoned so well and tastes so satisfying that I won’t order it anywhere else around here besides Mooney’s shawarma wrap, because the downtown Winston-Salem restaurant’s take is different enough that I don’t automatically draw comparisons.
I can say without exaggeration that Anthony looked like he might cry a little during those first few bites of gyro meat that had been shaved off of a vertical spit and onto a bed of fresh pita. Surrounded by a plate full of three charitable sides, including some pretty spectacular fries, the tzatziki-laden main fare would be too much for almost anyone to handle, let alone a proud Greek guy steeped in gyro fanaticism.
The Alexander platter, the one Anthony savored, is one of six kabob options, and distinguishes itself with a subtle, tangy tomato sauce while others proffer chicken or vegetables. The cashier will ask whether you want the shawarma platter with chicken — the correct answer is beef — and if you’d like chopped onions on top, which should be approached just like North Carolina barbecue: All the way, please.
Nazareth remained busy through a normal lunch hour on Monday, drawing in a crowd well after 2 p.m. The restaurant’s grandiose size also makes it memorable; even though young guys speaking Arabic, a punker teen, a woman in scrubs, a heavily tattooed guy rocking a trilby hat, a Muslim family and a legion of coworkers took up residence at several booths and patio tables, the venue looked fairly empty.
“I’ve never been this far down Market Street,” one woman remarked to her coworkers after a satisfying lunch, adding that she liked the long patio. She vowed to come back before comparing notes on several other international restaurants in the Gate City.
Nazareth has been around for a while now, but recently converted the right side of its long room into a coffee and tearoom with inviting furniture. A selection of grocery options, including cheap and organic olive oil and a plethora of spices, separate the two other functions of the space, but the restaurant is still growing into the hand-me-down building across West Market Street from a Latin meat market.
The bread here is homemade, of course, and patrons can watch a mohawked man behind the counter sharpening a long carving knife before approaching the vertical spit with the attentiveness of a pointillist painter.
Mediterranean-food fanboy Anthony called the grape leaves at Nazareth “perfect,” and I see no compelling reason to disagree with his analysis given the more present citrus taste rather than the more common pickled taste that is generally at the fore.
There are other affordable side options too, including a six-piece of falafel. And there’s a section of the menu dedicated to burgers — a Greek one, another with Bleu cheese and apple and even a “Frankenstein” burger made of grilled hotdog and served with coleslaw and American cheese. Maybe the Frankenstein and chicken fajita are good. I’ll never know, because Nazareth’s shawarma and gyro platters are your real best friend.
Visit Nazareth Bread Co. at 4507 W. Market St. (GSO) or at nazarethbread.com.
[This article will appear in the May 6, 2015 print issue of Triad City Beat.]