One of my favourite restaurants is a little family owned Lebanese steak house that was opened here over 50 years ago.
Best. Steaks. Ever.
But before we talk about the food, let me tell you about the character of the place.
First, it is located on a busy street amidst modern apartment and business construction in what used to be a house. Yes, a house. A very small and simple house in fact.
FYI for first timers: You go in through the back door.
Okay, so we have the house right? Tables are extremely close together, which is not odd for anyone who has ever lived or eaten in a large metropolitan city. But this is NOT a large or metropolitan city at all, which makes the success of this restaurant even more unique. Here people are used to S P A C E. I mean, c'mon, it's the heartland. The house I grew up in had closets bigger than some NY apartments I've stayed in.
The tables are covered with white linen clothes and each place setting contains more pieces than I can count. Every table is served "Lebanese Hors d' oeuvres" which include hummus, tabouli, pita bread, raw veggies, cabbage rolls and (get this) ribs and bar-b-q bologna! RIBS as an appetizer?! Kinda puts those bread basket restaurants to shame huh?
The food is divine, though the menu can be a little misleading. I once spent ages convincing Little Dog (the pickiest eater in the world) to order the smoked chicken instead of a plain baked potato. "It's like the chicken fingers you LOVE, just without the crispy part," I assured him. I described, in great detail, how a smoked chicken breast was flavoured and very tender.
Well, when the meal was delivered to our table imagine my surprise when placed before Little Dog was a SMOKED CHICKEN. A WHOLE smoked chicken all trussed up and browned. Little Dog looked at me in horror, as if to ask why Woody Woodpecker had been plucked, hog tied, roasted and put in front of him. Looking back it was pretty funny, but at the time I think my poor seven year old was briefly traumatised. He made it a point to remind me several times in the ensuing weeks that he did not eat "things that look like they do in real life."
So last week my family gathered there for my birthday dinner. My sister had never been there. It's always fun to watch a first timer. While the menu is formal and the waiters are in dress black, the clientele is usually in jeans. (Did I mention it's the heartland?) My own first time was with RB to celebrate our first anniversary. We dressed in our best - shiny shoes and pearls kind of best. Then we spent the whole meal watching the antics of a large group across from us who laughed loudly, drank lots of beer, and included a woman who removed her blouse to expose an enormous breast to her nursing toddler. It was kind of distracting.
But back to my sister. Okay, so we are all seated, chit chatting and munching on pita bread when my sister points out that we have been sitting there for 20 minutes and no one has taken our drink order. We shush her. Ten minutes later she points out how wobbly the table is. We shush her again and kick a matchbook under the table leg. Finally an elderly man, who looks as if he could be God's older brother, approaches our table on shaky legs. It was our waiter.
Yes, the restaurant was opened over 50 years ago and I think they have the very same waiters today as they did on that first day. The only thing shakier than the table legs are the waiters hands. When they serve your food you find your self quickly reaching to take the plate from their hands lest it drop. My nephew actually got up and ran down the aisle to help our server carry two plates to our table.
It was a new experience for my sister and also for Furry, who managed to reach from his high chair to grab the handle of a water pitcher and spill it on the floor. Perhaps he was impatient with the service also.
The water only puddled for a few minutes before our helpful waiter brought linen napkins and supervised as we scrambled to mop the floor. Furry smiled his toothless grin and batted his baby blues so all was forgiven I'm sure.
We tipped our waiter handsomely and left fully sated. Furry was too young to receive the traditional parting gift all children receive when leaving the restaurant: One whole roll of life savers in the original flavours.