Jerusalem Market makes the move downtown

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The U-shaped storefront at 310 S. Elm St. isn’t the most troubled on the core block of downtown Greensboro, but it isn’t exactly blessed with good luck, either.

Despite considerable investment in the center city, the empty cavities of once-thriving businesses still populate the 300 block of South Elm, as conspicuous as missing front teeth. The property at 310 isn’t one of them, and maybe Jerusalem Market can be the one to break the curse of frequent turnover.

When I first walked into the space, probably eight years ago, Minj Grill occupied the building. A landmark known for offering great wings and being one of the lone black-owned institutions downtown, Minj’s closure disappointed countless Greensboro residents.

The storefront remained quiet for a long stretch after that, with new ownership with an indecisive streak putting out burgers, salads and ice cream in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of concepts. Not surprisingly the effort fell flat on its face, but then Harlem Express opened. This place knew what it was doing, quickly offering great food and service, but before I could return, it closed too.

The black owner made plans for a “gourmet salad and ramen noodle bar” in the same space called Leaf & Noodle that would attract a crowd that wasn’t as “urban” — his actual word choice in a message to me — but the new concept never came to fruition. Next we were promised a smokehouse and raw bar by the folks behind Josephine’s, but that didn’t pan out either and before long Josephine’s would close too, only to become Scrambled diner. (The food is excellent, but I wish Josephine’s had survived the transition.)

Yes, the restaurant business can be unforgiving in general, and maybe not only to 310 S. Elm St. in particular. The younger generation from Jerusalem Market — a grocery-oriented shop opened in southwest Greensboro in 1989 — might turn the tide.

Jerusalem Market built a following over the decades out near Sedgefield, in part thanks to the made-to-order food from the counter in the back of the store. But aside from the overlapping culinary traditions and family members, the downtown location is hardly recognizable; it’s a full-blown restaurant.

I would recommend anything I’ve tried without hesitation, including the shawarma and falafel wraps, but I’d encourage you to try the kifta — chopped lamb and beef mixed with aromatic spices and fresh herbs — in particular. The complimentary hibiscus pomegranate tea is also a must-try.

Friends who showed up in the first couple weeks after Jerusalem Market on Elm opened complained of the long wait time for orders to arrive, something I can attest to but didn’t particularly mind as I waited on the inviting, fenced-in back patio with a friend. When I returned more recently, the issue appeared to have been ameliorated.

When owner Omar Hanhan — whose dad opened the original market — told me last year about plans for the store, we talked about Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill as a comparable concept, but so far Jerusalem Market on Elm doesn’t boast much in the way of pre-prepared food. Likely they’re too busy — patrons continue to flock there for the delicious cuisine — but when they’re able to get a hold on things, it should calm anyone frustrated by a potential wait who’d be better off with a grab-and-go option.

But otherwise, Jerusalem Market should make a killing. The food is excellent, full of flavor that’s harder to come by downtown now that Zaytoon is closed. And the price point is right, in line with comparable downtown venues and slightly higher than Jack’s Corner (where I can often be found grabbing a takeout order of the chicken souvlaki).

It calls to mind Mooney’s in Winston-Salem more than Med Deli in format, while the design of the space recalls the original Crafted restaurant up the street with its open area in front, narrow hallway passing the kitchen and then a large open dining area in the rear.

I don’t really know what ill fate fell on the former tenants of this space — Minj always seemed wildly popular, and I encouraged people to go to Harlem Express almost as soon as it opened. Timing is everything though, and downtown Greensboro appears more full of economic activity now than it has in the decade I’ve lived here. Hopefully that means Jerusalem Market is here to stay, but I’ll need your help in making it so.

 

Visit Jerusalem Market at 310 S. Elm St. (GSO) or at jerusalemarket.com.