I recently got the chance to attend a store tasting and tour with other local bloggers at Phoenicia Specialty Foods, in Downtown Houston. It was an exceptionally awesome experience and one I am too excited to talk about! I use to shop at the Phoenicia off Westheimer when I lived in the area and simply put, it's a foodie's paradise. They carry more than 15,000 products from over 50 countries, many of which I am largely unaware of,  so I use to go and experiment with what they offered. I found myself enjoying things I couldn't even pronounce or intelligently describe to anyone, but loved  it. If you've never been to Phoenicia or haven't visited the downtown location ( which has free parking by the way),  I will do my best to accurately convey the urgency with which you need to go. 

When myself and the other bloggers arrived, we were treated to a cocktail and meat and cheese platter ( more on that later) and then we started our tour around the store. For each section of the store we visited, there were also food samples. Here's what we tasted...

Roasted beets layered with herbed goat cheese on a bed of mixed greens with sherry vinaigrette. 

I'm not the biggest fan of beets but this was undeniably beautiful as well as tasty. I could eat this all day.

Shredded mole-braised lamb in tannour flatbread with fresh fennel, cucumber and orange salsa, topped with yogurt.

Urgggg so good! Delicious, flavorful, juicy, this is the stuff that dreams are made of, topped with a yogurt-mint sauce.

Lebni is a classic Middle Eastern dip made from strained yogurt. Here it's being sampled with olive and pita bread.

Dutch cheese with nutty fruit notes covered in honey.

Silky banana pudding and homemade wafer cookies with a twist of pineapple jelly.

Banana pudding is a personal childhood favorite and this version did not disappoint. It was light and creamy the way it should be, and their was a whisper of the pineapple flavor versus the rude outburst that I was expecting from a tropical fruit. 

I would just like to note that I showed an enormous amount of restraint by only snapping a few pics along the tour with so many surprises at every turn. My mind could have exploded with things to cook, cook with, eat, and sample, but here are just a few of the things you'll see at Phoenicia Specialty Foods.

Expect to see exotic produce like green almonds and a variety of desserts from around the world. The black forest cake, tiramisu, and baklava are my personal favorites. 

Phoenicia has an extensive selection of olive oils, and a wine selection that I never even knew existed. We all know of wines from France, Italy, and Spain, but I never knew countries like Jordan and Israel produced wine. At dinner we sampled a bottle of red wine from Lebanon that had a bit of a spice to it that I will definitely be coming back for. While on the tour we were given access to the pita baking room where Phoenicia bakes fresh pita bread daily.

Phoenicia Specialty Foods also has a chill gastropub on the lower level called MKT Bar. Here you'll find live music, beer, wine, coffee, cocktails, and an impressive menu of food and desserts. After the store tour we were treated to dinner to sample the menu.

Melon Cooler- prosecco and house-infused watermelon syrup

Artisanal Meats & Cheeses- Drunken Goat Cheese, Armenian string cheese, pepper-crusted salami, prosciutto, cured beef basterma with grapes, olives, specialty jams and toasted pita chips.

Before the store tour began the bloggers all met at the MKT Bar and were greeted with a glass of Melon Cooler and this fancy cheese and meat tray. The tray was actually so gorgeous that we all looked at each other for permission before digging in. No one wanted to be "that girl" that ate before everyone was able to take pics, or stuff their face while everyone else is mingling. Well, I volunteered as tribute and got things going by eating the Drunken Goat Cheese. :)  After the tour we returned to MKT Bar for a sit down meal of deliciousness and YUM!

Roasted squash, zucchini, artichokes, carrots, asparagus, cripsy Brussel sprout leaves, goat cheese and basil pesto.

I think of this pizza as a health conscious decision with just a little bit of a rebel side because... after all it is a pizza. I love goat cheese in and on anything, so I am very bias when I say that I truly enjoyed the Veg Out Pizza, but the crispy Brussels sprouts is what really did it for me. The crisp crunch of the sprouts and it's slightly nutty flavor is what makes this pizza a must try.

Splish-Splash - dill-infused agave nectar, pinot grigio and strained cucumber finished with bitters.

Fries - Za'atar-dusted shoestring fries with lemon zest, spicy Moroccan ketchup and garlic aioli for dipping

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The Splish-Splash is the perfect summer drink! Very light, not too sweet, a very mellow drink with a lot of flavor. I wasn't sure about the dill but it adds a very soft, fresh flavor that is unforgettable. The garlic aioli sauce that came with the fries was fabulous. It looks like mayo which I hate, but don't be fooled, its got a creamy texture and smooth garlic flavor that makes you want to bath it in.  

Served with barbeque sauce, fresh onions and pickles on house Kaiser roll with spiced fingerling potatoes.

I don't typically eat bread so I had these without the bun and loved it. The barbeque sauce isn't too sweet or thick, and I liked the onion and pickle being mixed in to add  texture.

I don't think any of us were prepared for Thanksgiving coming early. Not only is the food beautiful but it's exceptionally seasoned, well prepared and a wonderful surprise for a Wednesday night! Oh and the Brussels Sprouts are oven-roasted with bacon and pita croutons. Mmmm.

Turkish coffee creme brulee and layers of bittersweet chocolate mousee.

Normally I'm not a huge fan of chocolate desserts but the Turkish coffee and the novelty of a chocolate creme brulee made this dessert something I might have to order again. 

Flaky filo layers, baked apples, cinnamon and walnuts with a scoop of snickerdoodle gelato.

This is another dessert that I was surprised to enjoy. I have a thing against hot fruit desserts. I don't like peach cobbler or apple pie ( I know, I know, I'm weird), but I loved this dessert. I wasn't turned off by the baked apple, but was instead enticed by the crispy baklava, and the cinnamony-goodness of the gelato. 

Stout, espresso and homemade Irish cream syrup topped with fresh whipped cream.

The Irish Coffee Stout can be served cold or hot, but either way it's one of the strongest coffee drinks that I've had in a while. I couldn't finish my drink, especially after all the gorging we did at dinner, but this would make for a great midday pick me up. 

We had a wonderful evening sampling food and enjoying dinner, but funny enough the staff made the biggest impression on me. Our tour was guided by Ann-Marie Tcholakain, the daughter of Phoenicia store owners, Bob and Arpi. Native to Lebanon, the Tcholakain family started with a small deli market in the early 80's, and today their import superstore is still going strong. After spending some time with Ann-Marie I could feel the love, passion, and heart that built Phoenicia, and it's still very alive today. The waiters that served us were all happy, carefree, professional, and personable. I spoke with one of them after dinner and told him how impressed I was at how much everyone seemed to love their jobs. He said that he had been working there for 3 years and he is still as happy as the day he started. I captured a little bit of the vibe that night in the video below. Side note- I was having a hard day before I came to the tour and tasting, but I left with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. :)

Phoenicia Specialty Foods and MKT Bar made my night! Good food, good people, a quality experience, and a newfound respect and adoration for a store I already loved before I really knew the story behind it. Myself and other bloggers were sent home with  goodie bags stuffed seasonings and sweets, along with menus including an impressive Brunch lineup. Can't wait to place my order when MsIndependent hosts our very our Tour, Tasting, and Brunch  at Phoenicia on July 16th.  If you can't wait til then, check out MKT Bar online for all their specials and events, and live music schedule.