The sense of family pride in serving high-quality food in a friendly, relaxed setting is obvious at Cedars. The co-owner greeted us and placed menus at the honey-colored wood tables set with utensils wrapped in thick paper napkins. Her sister, who would be our server, returned with wine glasses and an opener.
Helpful descriptions of the dishes were included on the menu. We finally decided on our dishes and sat back to enjoy the beautiful pictures and artwork from Lebanon that hung on the ochre-colored walls.
A soup bowl of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus ($4.99) arrived first as an orange-tinted puree with whole chickpeas in the center. Four cucumber rounds were tucked into the hummus topped with a dusting of paprika. Warm, grilled pita bread was served alongside.
We ordered the Veggie Mix entrée ($11.99) instead of the Cedars Veggie Combo appetizer ($14.99) so we could sample a variety of items but still have some room for the main course. It also gives us a good excuse to return to try the Cheese Sanbousik and Spinach Pie that aren’t included in the Veggie Mix. Either assortment is easily enough for an entrée. We shared the Vegetarian Kibbeh which had a thick, crunchy coating with a perfectly spiced, moist filling and a hint of fresh mint. We later learned that the coating was not the usual bulgur wheat but a secret ingredient prepared by the chef-owner. The stuffed grape leaves had the same hit of fresh mint and spices in the rice filling with a meltingly tender dark green wrapper in olive oil. Smooth Baba Ghanouj had just enough garlic for our taste. The crunchy coating of the Falafels surrounding finely ground chickpeas and seasonings was heightened by a dip in the cup of tahini sauce. The salad of tomato, cucumber and red onion slices atop crisp Romaine greens was tossed with too much Italian style dressing for our taste. We decided to add the Hummus to our red pepper version to take with us for another meal.
Chicken Shish Tawook ($12.99) brought five large chunks of incredibly tender marinated chicken breast, green pepper and onion seared for flavor. The rice was a special treat—a buttery pilaf made with threadlike noodles in addition to rice. A dish of Tabouli Salad again showed how fresh ingredients can elevate a standard mix based on bulgur wheat, parsley, mint and tomato. A side of Hummus and a wonderfully silky whip of garlic and olive oil completed the platter.
Shawarma ($7.50) was a pita topped with thinly sliced marinated beef and lamb—think gyro—with lettuce, tomato, red onion, parsley and tahini sauce wrapped in paper to make it easier to eat as a sandwich. Real French fries—not battered, breaded or seasoned—arrived crispy hot from the fryer on the side in place of a salad.
We were enjoying our feast when the chef-owner came to check on us. He proudly explained how he made all items from scratch, except for the desserts, which are his wife’s specialty. He suggested that we try a trio of desserts since we couldn’t pass up baklava but had never tried the other offerings.
A plate of Baklava ($3.50), Namoura ($2.99) and Kataifi ($3.50) was presented after we had asked to take the unfinished part of our meal home. The Baklava had rich, buttery but not overly sweet layers of phyllo on top of finely ground walnut, topped with grated pistachios. The Kataifi far exceeded our expectations based on its description on the menu. An ethereal custard that was like a lightened cheesecake was topped with thread like toasted noodles. A hint of rosewater gave it an exotic flavor. The description of Namoura also understated its wonderful flavor. The semolina cake had almost a rich, sticky texture from orange water and honey syrup. We somehow found room for all three desserts, even after a satisfying bounty of Middle Eastern food.
Westgate Plaza, 309 Lancaster Avenue, Frazer
Hours: Tues - Sat 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sun, Noon – 8 p.m.; Closed Monday
Cost: Appetizers, $5 to $15; entrees, $12 – 21
Credit cards: VISA, Mastercard
Special Features: Vegetarian options, free WiFi, market