Touring the Middle East

Apr 21, 2004 at 12:00 am

I just ate for the first time at one of metro Detroit’s fine Middle Eastern restaurants, Lebanese Garden, which is on Woodward just north of Square Lake Road in the Kingswood Plaza. I had a fattoush salad with chicken shawarma. At first I thought the service was a bit slow, but when I sampled the food, it was obvious that the salad was freshly made and the chicken was hot off the grill. This explained the delay.

This little storefront was immaculate. I’m anxious to return to try the Lebanese maza that two women seated next to me ordered. It consisted of separately plated servings of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, fattoush, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, fried kibbee, mixed vegetables and pickles, all for $19.99. There must have been a lot of leftovers.

Several years ago, I worked in Dearborn and tried many of the fine Middle Eastern restaurants there. Summerland (on Warren a few blocks east of Schaefer) made the best rotisserie roasted chicken, seasoned with lemon, garlic, cinnamon and bay leaf. When Summerland closed, it was replaced by Cedarland across the street. Cederland’s chef wrapped the whole chicken in lavash and stuck it into a plastic bag. When I got home a half hour later, the chicken was still hot and the lavash had fused with the chicken skin — finger food at its best, especially when dipped in toum, the fresh garlic sauce they put in the bag with the pickled turnips and peppers.

New Yasmeen Bakery has the best zatar I’ve ever eaten. Zatar, in case you don’t know, is flat bread similar to a thick pita that is covered with sumac, thyme, sesame seed, oregano and olive oil and baked in a hot brick oven.

When I told a Lebanese friend about it, he said his mother made zatar better than anyone. A few days later, he called me from the New Yasmeen and told me that I was right, but he made me swear not to tell his mom.

I frequently ate lunch at Al-Ameer, also on Warren. I loved the simply named broiled chicken — boneless chicken breast charbroiled and sliced, then finished in a lemon garlic sauce. I’ve not found anyone who does as good a job with broiled chicken as Al-Ameer — until the owner’s son, Taleb, recently open his own restaurant of the same name on Orchard Lake Road, just south of 13 Mile in the former Desert Sands restaurant location. This guy can cook. His tabbouleh is lemony-crisp. His baba ghanoush is smoky and creamy, just the right blend of charred eggplant, tahini, garlic and lemon. Everything is served with pita right out of the oven, steamy and hot enough to burn your hands when you break it open. A half order of the broiled chicken, served with bread, pickles, garlic sauce, and a choice of two sides — hummus or baba, salad, soup, rice or fries — is enough for two people. It’s a bargain at $10, a buck extra for tabbouleh or fattoush, instead of the salad. Tell Taleb I sent you. He might give you a taste of dessert or a bit of a new, experimental dish. Several friends have eaten there, most more than once. Do not be put off by the worn-out awning covering the entrance. It’s about to be removed.

A few years ago, I discovered Hassan and Brothers Meats, a butcher shop and Middle Eastern grocery at the southwest corner of Long Lake and Dequindre. It is a small store that sells a variety of Middle Eastern products including nuts, spices, seasoning blends, bread and some prepared frozen foods. Everything about it seems fresh, and it is spotless. The clientele is largely Arabic and Indian, people who typically consume a good amount of lamb. The meats are Halal. I’ve not found any better lamb in town; it comes in just about any form, from ground for kibbee to whole lamb and everything in between. There’s beef, roasts and steaks, and 7-pound bags of well-trimmed boneless, skinless fresh chicken breasts, usually for less than $2 per pound.

Nabil Siblani, who runs the market, is a full-service butcher. He and his staff will cut meat to order, offer you recipes and tell you how to cook it. They occasionally sell marinated lamb and chicken. His Sujouk and Lebanese sausage are not always available. If they are, try them.

This week I picked up some lean ground lamb to make shish kafta. It’s a relatively easy dish to make and it is delicious. Here’s the recipe.


Shish Kafta

1 1/2 pounds of lean ground lamb
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup of finely chopped parsley, stems removed
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon Syrian spice (sometimes called seven spice)

Exact amounts of seasonings should be adjusted to suit the chef’s preferences. I like fewer onions and more parsley. You are the one who must like what you cook. Combine all of the ingredients well and form into nine or 10 cylinders about an inch or so thick and 4 or 5 inches long. They can be prepared and kept in a refrigerator for several hours. If you want to skewer them, use the flat skewers, not the round ones. I prefer to cook them loose on a hot charcoal fire. Once they are charred on one side, they are easy to turn with tongs. If your grill is clean and oiled, they should not stick. Cook them, turning them once or twice, for about five minutes. The firmer they are to the touch, the more well-done they are.

Readers, you’ll want to know that due to a last-minute deadline crunch — my first such experience as a food writer — there was some confusion regarding my opinion of the best Tandoori chicken in town. Make no mistake! It’s found at House of India. It’s wonderfully seasoned and cooked perfectly, slightly charred on the outside and moist inside. If you know anyone who is resistant to trying Indian food, tell them they’re about to eat a new version of barbecued chicken.

Enjoy. Remember — food is love.


Hassan and Brothers Meats: 2904 E. Long Lake Road, Troy 48098; 248-619-0909. Al-Ameer: 12710 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-8185. Al-Ameer: 29222 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills; 248-851-1122. New Yasmeen Bakery: 13900 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-6035. Cedarland Restaurant: 13007 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-4849.

Jeff Broder is a chow-hound for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]