If you haven’t already heard about Damascus Gate, you definitely will soon! Owners Raed Alshaikh and Mouhammad Maidani have already opened two restaurants in Jacksonville and have a third on the way. I can’t say much about the third location except that it will be located in the middle of Jacksonville and is very unique. As Raed puts it, “I’m gonna do something that everybody talks about.” Alshaikh is no stranger to the restaurant business. He owned seven restaurants in Dubai including one very fun concept called ROGO’s. In this restaurant, the kitchen was located on the 4th floor. When customers placed an order, the food would be delivered down a twisting track via a roller coaster. As you can imagine, this was quite the attraction.
Alshaikh is bringing his restaurant expertise to the United States in the form of Damascus Gate. The menu for both locations includes Arabic staples like shawarma and kebabs, with the Baymeadows location also offering pizza and pasta. While you can still get traditional pizza, they also have different options using their Arabic menu items as toppings. No matter which location you visit, you are sure to have a great experience. All of the food is prepared daily to ensure freshness, with some items taking longer than others. For example, one skewer of chicken takes two days to prepare. Many places would not take the time, but Damascus Gate does. Once prepared, the meat rotates slowly on a spinning skewer to cook. When an order has been placed, the meat is then shaved off to create the dish. These skewers are typically used for their shawarma dishes, including the very delicious shawarma pita. You can choose chicken or beef, with each containing different ingredients and sauces. The chicken shawarma comes with homemade garlic sauce that is so good I could eat it with a spoon. It is thicker than many sauces due to the preparation method, which for me, only adds to the appeal.
Make sure to order a few sides to share like hummus, baba ganoush, or tabouleh. Each dish is prepared with the freshest ingredients, a fact that is made very apparent while eating the tabouleh. The taste is crisp and light, with a hint of lemon that comes in on the tail end. It is a very refreshing dish and will pair nicely with anything you decide to order. The baba ganouj is another great option if you are looking for something to dip your pita bread into. In this traditional eggplant dish, Alshaikh deters slightly from the traditional preparation method by incorporating olive oil into the cooking process. This gives the final product a distinct taste that sets it apart from others.
While you might come in for the items mentioned above, don’t disregard their pastries. I have tasted a few and was blown away. My favorite is the croissant filled with halloumi cheese. I could sit there and eat endless amounts of those. They also offer meat and cheese pies, and even homemade ice cream. These items are not on the menu, but make sure to ask about them. All are reasonably priced, so you can pick a few different things to try. I would definitely recommend grabbing a few friends and eating family style. That way, you get to try a little bit of everything, and not break the bank. If you have a party of 4 or more people, or just a few really hungry ones, think about ordering the Meter Kebab. This dish is exactly what the name implies, a meter-long kebab. It is served with kabsa rice, grilled onions, and tomato, and is laid out across the table. It is quite the crowd pleaser and will make you the envy of all your friends…especially the ones that didn’t get invited.