It’s no secret that Phoenicia is the city’s go-to spot for a dizzying array of gourmet international foods and hard-to-find ingredients. Every trip to the two-story location at 1001 Austin Street yields new discoveries and culinary possibilities, and that’s never been more needed than this holiday season when families and friends are ready to celebrate together with renewed excitement. Whether you’re stuffing stockings or simply stuffing your guests, there’s a lot to love about the offerings at the impressive Downtown emporium.
Phoenicia’s second-generation owners, siblings Haig and Ann-Marie Tcholakian, work together to present lots of products year-round, but the holidays are particularly ripe for new and unique products. With the help of Ann-Marie, who oversees buying plus creative and retail operations, and Haig, who heads up wine, beer, and Phoenicia’s social media/PR, this guide will give you plenty of ideas for celebrating the holidays in style.
1) Housemade honey pepper goat cheese: This soft and spreadable favorite marries
slightly sweet honey with a touch of pepper for a little kick. The Tcholakians suggest serving it on Phoenicia’s homemade Madnakash bread, along with Cortas baked fig preserves from Lebanon.
2) Shanklish: These spice-covered cheese balls originate in Syria and are difficult to source outside of the Middle East. When they couldn’t be sourced on the market, Phoenicia did the next best thing: started making them in-house. A mixture of double cream feta and Gorgonzola cheese is rolled into balls, then covered with oregano, zaatar, and Aleppo pepper. The balls are then aged for several days to harden prior to packing for shelves.
3) Queso Iberico: This cheese from central Spain is less well-known than its Spanish counterpart, Manchego, but no less delicious. Made from a blend of goat, cow, and sheep’s milk, the flavor is a combination of nutty, fruity, and floral. Often a centerpiece of Spanish tapas, it’s outstanding with Mediterranean pairings like olives and fruit jam.
4) Romi: This cheese from Egypt is made from full cream cow’s milk, in a style that’s reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Like its Italian counterparts, it’s especially good when paired with sweet dried fruits and nuts.
5) Spanish chorizo: This cured pork sausage’s vibrant red color comes from the paprika used in the spice mix. The end result is a smoky, slightly spicy and sweet flavor that pairs wonderfully with cheeses like Queso Iberico, olives, or crunchy Marcona almonds.
6) Basterma: This delicious sausage can be found in several countries, but it’s thought to
have originated in Armenia. To make the sausage, artisans take beef and cure it with
fenugreek, paprika, and other spices, then hang it to age. It’s best served thinly sliced,
and paired with Armenian string cheese and Phoenicia’s fresh pita bread. For a taste of
this favorite pairing, head to MKT BAR and order the charcuterie board.
7) Pepper-crusted salami: Coarse pepper coats this Italian classic,
which adds textural interest to the spicy pop of black pepper. Not only does this fly from a charcuterie board and pair well with cheese, it also spices up any sandwich, which makes
it a must for all those holiday leftovers. It’s such a crowd-pleaser that it’s also served on the MKT BAR charcuterie board.
Nuts and Spreads
8) Fresh green walnuts: This sweet treat is a delicacy that makes an excellent accompaniment for salty cheeses. 0Young, still-green walnuts are placed into a sugar syrup, and over time the fresh nuts soften and turn a dark mahogany brown. The rich, datelike flavor of the final product can be tasted in the walnuts and the syrup, which also makes a great ice cream topping.
9) Marcona almonds: Known as the “queen of almonds,” these Spanish salted almonds are sweeter, softer, and more buttery than their California counterparts. They are a guest favorite on their own but also make a great addition to any cheese plate and a glass of wine.
10) Rose petal jam: Fruit isn’t the only thing that makes a wonderful jam. Rose petals offer a soft floral flavor that makes a great counterpoint to stronger flavored cheeses on a crisp cracker. The jam’s beautiful pink coloring also lends a festive feel to a spread.
11) Halva: One housemade specialty that should always make its way into the shopping
cart at Phoenicia is halva. Made of sesame seed paste—also known as tahini—Haig
likens this delight to a dense, crumbly Middle Eastern cotton candy. Pistachio and chocolate (or marble) represent two amazing traditional flavors that are house favorites. Haig suggests scooping these up in a hot and fresh pita with coffee or tea.
12) Pajama Sweets pistachio brittle: Within this eye-catching tin, you’ll find beautiful cardamom and saffron-infused pistachio brittle from a Dallas-based company. The brittle makes a delicious and unique gift, especially when paired with a nice bottle of wine.
13) Olives: You’ll find a variety on Phoenicia’s shelves, but if you can only choose one to sample this holiday season, buy the Zahra Lebanese black and green olive mix marinated in thyme, lemon, and roasted red pepper chunks.
14) Zaatar seasoning: Don’t leave without this tangy and smoky seasoning mix of thyme and sesame. In addition to adding to olive oil, Haig recommends sprinkling on labne (kefir
cheese spread) and drizzling with olive oil to top it off. To dip, a fresh-cut baguette is the perfect vehicle.