Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Majestic mix

Mid-city eatery offers worldly melange of cuisine.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Majestic Café’s menu takes its inspiration from all over the map — or at least the names of its dishes do. Among many influences, I spotted Ireland, the Middle East, Mexico, Thailand, France, Italy, Jamaica, Vietnam, New York (Jewish deli), Louisiana, Hawaii (OK, it’s a pineapple sandwich), Michigan, China, and the U.S. South and Southwest, plus vegetarian choices, steak and a host of mongrels.

You don’t expect eclecticism to produce a faithful interpretation of many or any of the cuisines, but chef Joe Zainea isn’t trying to convince you he’s straight out of Ho Chi Minh City via New Orleans with roots in Bologna. He’s just trying to give you something you’ll like.

As his dad, Majestic founder Papa Joe, puts it: “Joe’s really picked up a talent for knowing what people in the area want.” Thus we find a lot of portobellos; while botana and jerk chicken coexist with hummus, chicken wings, antipasto, baked Brie, and tofu tod — and that’s just the appetizers.

The menu is too long to do justice to, with 16 starters, 9 salads, 17 sandwiches and 24 entrées. The bottom line is that if you order a dish whose ingredients you normally like, you’re likely to be pleased.

A fabulous appetizer is the pan-roasted scallops with asparagus puree and morels. The two big crusty scallops are rich unto death; morels are, as always, earthy and pungent; and the asparagus has been turned into a guacamole-like thick green cream. I recommend eating the three components separately.

And yam fries are a Majestic mainstay, deservedly. They’re pencil thin, sweet and luscious, droopy rather than crisp. The warm honey dip is a gilding of the lily — but if you’re the type who likes marshmallows on your sweet potatoes, go for it.

Chef Zainea likes to have a lot going on in his dishes, as in chicken carbonara with shallots, garlic, capers and prosciutto in a white wine pepper cream sauce over basil fettucini. I ordered this because I love the classic carbonara with bacon, egg and cream, and though Zainea’s version had little in common with the traditional, it worked — mostly creaminess, with just enough bite of pepper and tang of prosciutto.

Ravioli is a recurring theme. There’s a “Mexican fried ravioli” appetizer, and I found a giant sun-dried-tomato-stuffed ravioli in my tomato-basil soup. I could have passed on the soup, but the ravioli was outstanding.

Zainea cross-fertilizes Italian and vegetarian in his pesto-seared tofu served over portobello ravioli — the melt-in-the-mouth part of the dish. The artichoke and sun-dried tomato sauce with capers et al. is a bit too complex, and the four squares of tofu just sit there offering protein. Still, this dish is a winner if you don’t mind sorting out the tofu.

Chef Joe’s grandfather comes from Syria, and the Majestic’s predecessor, under Papa Joe, was a Middle Eastern restaurant. So I was surprised to find a couple of the Middle Eastern dishes lacking. The falafel is under-spiced and the hummus tastes like nothing more than mashed chickpeas in need of garlic.

The one dish I sampled that fell down hard was Tofu Todd. Perhaps its all-American spelling is a clue (ought to be “tod”) — plus the fact that the tofu is marinated in cranberry sauce. The eight tofu wedges are crisped and fried just right, but their hot-and-sweet sauce is more like American barbecue — and I’m sorry, but Texas and tofu don’t jibe.

Entrées are large, and there’s a shared plate charge of $2.

The Café is only one aspect of the Majestic entertainment complex (, which offers music, bowling, pool and a pizzeria, with a bar for each and an overlapping clientele. Papa Joe says everyone from the “silver-hairs” to downtown construction workers to artsy DIA workers to Karmanos researchers to “the droopy-drawer crowd” pass through the complex in the course of a day and a night.

On first Sundays the Majestic offers brunch with a long menu and live music. Anytime, it offers shuttle service to downtown theaters and stadiums. Wherever you’re headed to or from, the Majestic is a good place to eat.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail


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