It's easy to take for granted the number of incredible restaurants we have here in Bend. I always thought I'd have another chance to go to a place like Yoko's or Grover's (or Colors, which I still miss constantly), but then once I craved them, they were no longer there. I went to Joolz when they first opened and had a very romantic evening with my wife, filled with an eclectic blend of Middle Eastern, Lebanese and Mediterranean food with drinks that enhanced every flavor. It was a wonderful night, but we never went back because we tried new places and then just eventually forgot it was there. Recently, several people have told me that Joolz has one of the best happy hours in town and, if I weren't a stupid idiot (I don't have nice friends), I'd get over there and get my meze on.
My friend and I arrived at 4 p.m., right as they were opening and we were invited to sit wherever we'd like by our warm and understated server (who was also doubling as bartender. Or, he was doubling as a server. Either way, the man could multitask). I ordered the Beirut 75 (Makers Mark with ginger and lemon) and my friend ordered the Arak (the national drink of Lebanon) and both drinks complemented our selections so well that we made them last and sipped off of them through the rest of the meal. We then decided to focus on the meze so we could sample more of what Joolz has to offer.
We started with the baked feta and oven-dried tomatoes with olives and herbs. I've always felt like feta is a cheese to be used sparingly, as its taste tends to overpower anything it's paired with. As the main ingredient, however, and combined with the dried tomatoes and Greek olives, it created such an intense bouquet of flavors that I am now on a mission to find new (to me) ways to use this cheese. It was delicious on its own, but then combined with the spicy licorice tinge of the Arak, it became one of the most savory dishes I've ever tried.
Next, we had the elk wraps with hummus and Armenian pickles, which became the highlight of the meal for me. The elk was seasoned in a way that I'd only experienced with lamb and it absolutely melted in our mouths. It was a good thing each of us ordered one, because blood might have been shed over the last few bites. I'd never heard of, or tasted, for that matter, an Armenian pickle before, but now this Eurasian pickle and I have a real future together. I didn't think anything could top the Elk, but the way that pickle exploded flavor all over everything, I seriously wanted to cry when it was all gone and, if I hadn't been in such good company, there might have been some plate licking.
We double dipped next and ordered the falafel bites, as well as the halloumi (sheep cheese) slider. The falafel bites were only OK, as they were pretty salty and dry, but that sheep cheese slider was another absolutely masterful creation. The cheese was coated with the same olive-and-herb tapenade that came with the roasted feta and we were again confronted with another incredibly mouth-watering dish. I know there should be a moratorium on me saying "melts in your mouth," but that is honestly what it did and I'm not gonna lie about it.
After realizing we just didn't have room for any more meze, we wrapped it all up with an apricot baklava. My friend didn't care for it, but I thought it was delicious and just light enough for me to eat her half as well, so all was good with the world. We were happy and content and had, shockingly, been in Joolz for over three hours. But that's what meze is all about, and as Joolz's menu says: "A custom of eating small and flavorful bites of food to accompany drinks and to be enjoyed in the company of others." This, combined with the general peaceful ambience, makes it hard to venture into the cold and leave their welcoming lights behind. And because of this, Joolz, I'll never forget you again.