I just came from one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, and probably the best middle eastern meal I’ve ever eaten. Period. Sahara 34 is located in a little strip mall in Matawan. The place has been there forever. The menu reads “Under New Management”, but it was all new to me. The location itself is split in two: a market on one side and the dining room on the other. It is simply decorated but clean. A television on the wall plays a foreign channel which helps to bring you some place else. Our waiter, I believe, was the owner or one of them. He was attentive and exceptional, both in personality and with recommendations. I wanted to take my mom there for lunch before going into work today. I had been growing weary of diner food and was in the mood for something different.
Since this was going to be my one big meal for the day, I didn’t mind getting two appetizers for us. The first was a dish of hummus, perfectly creamy and saturated in extra virgin olive oil. With that were the Egyptian-style grape leaves. I’ve had the Greek kind before, but these were much different—served hot, wrapped tight and thin, and stuffed with a meat mixture. They managed to be chewy and snappy, almost like little sausages. Meanwhile, the hummus was just to die for. We ordered this not knowing the restaurant actually gives you a complimentary appetizer to start things off. Had I known, I most likely would have skipped the hummus (as great as it was) because we had way too much food…if there is such a thing.
We were presented with a bowl of white sauce and basket of pita bread. It was probably the equivalent of four loaves. This was called the “Greeting of the Dining Room” and a wonderful example of Middle Eastern hospitality. The waiter explained how the sauce was made and then added that he starts every day off with some—that he wouldn’t be right without it. And why not? The stuff was incredible. Take the famous white sauce the “Halal Guys” restaurant chain is known for, make it even creamier, add a ton of garlic, a touch of tzatziki, and you have something that I would slather on almost anything.
My meal was a gyro pita wrap. In all of my food adventures, I managed to have never had a real one before. Oh yes, this was the real deal. The lamb was thinly sliced, well-seasoned, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The pita bread was grilled and slightly crispy. The lettuce and tomato added a freshness and a crunch. Then comes a hefty helping of that white sauce to bring it all home. A side of French Fries totally pushed this over the edge, and there were quite a lot of fries to be had. My mom had the vegetarian platter which consisted of four balls of falafel, Greek salad, hummus, grape leaves, and babaghanouj. She loved it, and took about half of it home for another time because of how stuffed she was.
While we were eating, I was asked if I wanted more white sauce. I said it was very good, but getting oh so full and could not squeeze another morsel into my stomach. He asked, “Are you sure?” to which I replied, “Only if I can take it home”. Sure enough, he went right into the kitchen and brought me a container full of white sauce to go. At the end, when he asked how everything was, I told him how impressed I was. This was damn good. I even divulged that I had a food blog and was going to write about them, something I rarely mention. He thanked me and brought the chef out so he could hear my compliments. I just had to shake the guy’s hand, because this was a masterpiece of cooking. They know what they are doing at Sahara 34.
As a first time visit, it could not have been any more satisfying. I’m giving them a rare 4.5 out of 5 stars. Maybe after another visit or two (or ten), it will climb even higher. I’m easy when it comes to food—not very hard to please. Yet it is not often I am wowed by something so soon and so often. Sahara 34 managed to do that. This was cooking, service, and hospitality at its finest and I cannot wait to go back.
Sahara 34 is located at 1008 NJ-34 in Matawan, New Jersey.