Review: The Lebanese ‘Africano’ dishes at Peepo’s in Taylor are a walk on the wild side 

click to enlarge Peepo’s Bowl.

Tom Perkins

Peepo’s Bowl.

There's a phylum of Dearborn-area Lebanese-owned restaurants that trades in extreme flavors. Taystee's Burgers — which stacks mac and cheese bites, jalapeño poppers, and Cool Ranch Doritos with its patties — is one such example. Taylor's Peepo's will make you think of those type of restaurants, but it doesn't quite fit into that class.

Though its dishes hold a super loud flavor profile, Peepo's doesn't partake in stunt cooking or anything gimmicky. In fact, most of Peepo's menu is Lebanese fare that's recognizable in metro Detroit, but it starts to cross into the wild side in the menu's "Africano" section.

That's where chef, owner, and Lebanese immigrant Mahmoud Elhassan gets creative in mixing Lebanese and American fare, dousing his dishes with a homemade ranch and hot sauce that he would only say is a combination of "several sauces," with a bit of cayenne pepper, chili pepper, and ghost pepper. My guess is there's some citrus, vinegar, or something acidic in the mix, but, regardless, it should be noted that the menu is far more about flavor than spice. Don't let the ghost scare you, and Elhassan notes the ranch counterbalances the hot sauce.

Elhassan opened the small shop with his dad and brother-in-law in 2011, but the Africano menu didn't materialize until 2012, after customers asked for spicier menu items. As for the "Africano" label, Elhassan says it references spicy African food that he's tried, and he says he likes the ring to it.

But before you can get to the taste, the first thing you'll notice when a dish is set on your table is that the portions can be cartoonishly large. The Africano fries, for example, are composed of a mound of seasoned fries underneath a thick coating of flavorful chicken crumbles and onions sauteed in Africano sauce, all of which sits under melted mozzarella cheese, homemade ranch, parsley, and a dusting of cayenne pepper. That's all served on a pita, and the entire thing must weigh at least eight pounds.

Similarly, the hefty Africano sub (a "small" is eight inches) is made flavorful by the force of powerful condiments colliding: house-made ranch, Africano sauce, and mayo. The fried chicken sub was solid while the sub with shrimp — which comes with sauteed bell peppers and onions — is a notch hotter and better. The moist, crumbled falafel is a good vegetarian option, but the best is that one made with steak and sauteed onions. All are served on a grilled sesame seed hoagie roll.

Peepo's bowl reminds me of the excellent New York gyros at Hamtramck's Yemeni restaurants — it's packed with yellow turmeric rice under a thick coating of steak, mushrooms, and onions. That's mixed with hunks of tomatoes, iceberg lettuce that provides some needed crunch, and a thick helping of Peepo's ranch and Africano sauce crowns the dish.

Africano rice with shrimp is where the Africano sauce radiated the most heat. In it, a pile of turmeric rice is covered with shrimp and sauteed onions and bell peppers that arrive in a thick puddle of Africano sauce. This is Peepo's only mouth-singeing dish made. Conversely, the Africano hummus with steak and sauteed onions is fairly tame, but at the same time flavorful and one of the best menu items. We got our Africano salad — which also arrives as a large mound — with crumbles of falafel in a giant bed of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and a generous layer of the homemade ranch.

The dining room holds about eight tables, and it gets rather busy with a mix of customers during lunch. In fact, it gets so busy and the restaurant made such a name off of the Africano menu that Elhassan could consider a second location — and with that type of approach, Peepo's would fit right in with Dearborn. But Elhassan says he's a perfectionist and so, for now, Taylor is where you have to go for Lebanese-made Africano dishes.

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