Hot and puffy pitas

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A plan for dinner and movie led us to Elie’s, and it proved to be a good find. As we settled in, I noticed that there were none of the usual travel posters or folk art. The colors are subdued, the noise level reasonable, and the menu veers from the standard Middle Eastern formula.

Elie’s calls itself "Mediterranean," which explains the occasional Italian item, such as veal scaloppini, that pops up on the menu.

We began with an appetizer of roasted red pepper hummus. The pepper was blended into the chickpeas, giving the entire dish a brick red tint. It is served with small loaves of pita that come to the table from an open brick oven, still hot and puffy.

I ordered Moroccan chicken with couscous, which was prepared with zucchini, onions and carrots in a savory sauce that seasoned the couscous.

Soup or salad comes with, and I had a wonderful Swiss chard with white bean soup. There are a half-dozen soups on the menu, all homemade with big, uneven chunks of vegetables. I tasted three, which were delicious.

As my friend groaned with a full stomach and pushed away the remains of her vegetarian entrée, I realized we were already too late for the late movie. Perhaps it was for the best as we could not agree – I wanted to see Life is Beautiful, but she said humor and the holocaust don’t mix.

So we ordered rice pudding and tea, and talked until all the other customers had left. Our waitperson seemed fine with our pace and told us of his upcoming wedding plans.

On a return visit, we were not so lucky with the service. I was a little concerned when the soup and salad arrived before the appetizer, but we ate politely.

Sometime later, our waitperson returned to tell us the homemade Lebanese sausage was not available. She apparently thought we should skip the appetizer, but I suggested that she bring the menu so we could order something else. Our kibbe was served with the entrées.

The swordfish kebab I had that evening was excellent, served on a bed of spinach that was barely cooked, as if the heat of the sauce poured over had just wilted it. The fish and vegetables were grilled over charcoal.

Elie’s menu is supplemented with a sheet of daily specials, but even the standard menu is full of unusual Middle Eastern delicacies.

There are a dozen vegetarian entrées, as well as fish and charbroiled tenderloin. Portabella mushrooms surface in several dishes.

Friends who work nearby tell me that Elie’s is a favorite for lunch, even though the supply of hot pita loaves can run short.

Here’s a final favorable variation on the Middle Eastern formula: Elie’s offers fresh squeezed juice, but you’ll have to take their word for it because the juicer is in the kitchen (where it belongs, if you’ve ever tried to talk over one).

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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