Many of us have scarfed down plenty of Italian and Greek food and drink in our lifetimes, but tucked away on the other side of the Mediterranean, small but culturally rich Lebanon brings a wealth of unique flavors just waiting to be experienced.
Chef Restaurant Mediterranean Grill, located just across the street from campus at 1098 N. Huron River Drive, is a good place to start.
Hashim “Gus” Kassem, a Lebanon native, has spent several years perfecting his culinary abilities, even spending fifteen years as a chef for the Hilton Hotel in Sydney, Australia. He is filled with enthusiasm, especially when it comes to discussing his passion — making good food.
“The meat and the chicken is fresh,” Kassem said. “[The] lamb or beef is clean, no fat. Also, never fried, only sautéed, with onion, garlic and lemon.”
Chef Restaurant is quaint and neatly decorated. A large television hangs behind the back counter. Photographs, newspaper clippings and certificates Kassem has accumulated through his years in the food business adorn the wall.
But wait, you say, “This is the Caffeine Chronicles. Where’s the coffee and tea?”
Like most restaurants, Chef Restaurant offers its customers coffee and tea. What sets this restaurant apart from its competition in the area is its Turkish coffee and Arabic tea.
Turkish coffee will be a new experience to many coffee fanatics. For one, don’t expect a huge cup to gulp down: This robust coffee is poured into a teeny shot glass-sized cup. But, of course, as this beverage proves, big things do come in small packages.
The coffee isn’t for everyone, as it has a powerful and very different flavor. It is an acquired taste, but thankfully it doesn’t take too long to acquire. Before long, you won’t be able to stop sipping it.
One unique feature of Turkish coffee is its grainy texture. Drink all the way down to the bottom of the tiny glass and you’ll be left with a dark, sludgy matter. Don’t worry this is normal, as the coffee grounds are allowed to settle in this method of preparation.
Arabic tea, on the other hand, is served in a cute teacup with several little seeds, called cardamom, floating freely about. It has a pleasantly bitter flavor, with just enough sweetness. The tea itself is very aromatic, owing in part to the cardamom, which has a strong, almost minty flavor.
“I boil [the tea and cardamom] together for a half an hour,” Kassem said. “When I see the water is very clear, I put two spoonfuls of tea inside, put on a cover and leave it for one hour in the kitchen.”
There are little packets of sugar on each table, but think twice before dumping a couple of lumps into your cup of tea. For a truly authentic experience, enjoy your Arabic tea with honey.
“If anyone comes, I give him this Arabic tea with honey,” Kassem said. “A lot of people like it with honey … or mint, or some Arabic people like ginger. It’s good for when sometimes you have pain in your stomach; you can drink it with ginger or with cinnamon.”
Baklava, which Chef Restaurant also serves, compliments the tea quite well. If you’ve never enjoyed Arabic tea before, try ordering a plate of baklava to go with it. When dipped in warm tea, the baklava, made from honey, becomes a soft and gooey treat.
Lebanon may be on the other side of the ocean, but thanks to Chef Restaurant a little piece of it is just a short walk across the street.
Jess’ pick: Arabic tea with baklava, of course.
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