PEORIA — If there's one thing central Illinois doesn't lack, it's Middle Eastern restaurants. But one more entry into the field is welcome, especially when it fills a long-empty spot.
Jenin Village, 1301 W. Pioneer Pkwy., replaces a Thai restaurant that went through two iterations in the same space. And it's a commendable replacement with memorably good food — even under the tougher curve we perhaps graded on by asking my mother-in-law, a Lebanese native and great home cook, along with us.
I'd been wanting to stop in since they opened last fall, and was pleased to see it was doing solid traffic, including some families that came and went during our visit with kids in tow. The menu is mostly focused on Mid-East cuisine, though a few dishes from the subcontinent are also slipped in, including chicken or vegetable biryani and chicken tikka.
It's homey and welcoming from the get-go, with a friendly greeting and quick turnaround on orders of appetizers and soft drinks ($1.99 for tea, coffee and sodas; $2.49 for juices). Refills were a bit slower in coming, but that's about the only spot where added attention needs to be paid.
We started with the restaurant's vegetarian sampler platter ($12.99) which boasts four grape leaves wrapped around rice and herbs, four crispy falafel, and a generous serving of both creamy hummus and baba ghanouj, the savory eggplant spread that was redolent with garlic and lemon. It comes with a heaping basket of piping hot, pillowy Arabic bread to scoop it all up. (Mother-in-law's verdict? "I'd have this again!")
My mixed grill ($18.99) topped a platter of rice with large chunks of well-seasoned beef, chicken, a lengthy kufta sausage, and a garnish of a grilled tomato and half-onion. It came with a choice of salad or hummus. The latter added some nice texture when added in along with bites of the food. It's also accompanied by a delightfully pungent, thick garlic sauce and some tangy tahini to dip the meat into.
My wife enjoyed her shawarma platter ($13.99) of thinly sliced, seasoned beef over rice, garnished with tomato and onion (the latter held at her request) and a side of tahini. Our companions had a falafel sandwich ($5.99) and a kufta sandwich, which wraps inside flatbread an array of tomatoes, onions, tahini sauce and lengths of grilled ground beef combined with parsley, garlic and herbs ($9.99 with fries on the side).
Portions here are ample, so much so that we all ended up taking home leftovers from our entrees. But there are a couple desserts on offer, including the ubiquitous baklava ($5.99) or a slice of chocolate cake ($4.99).