My heart breaks for the good people of Lebanon as the economic crisis there grinds on, medicine shortages persist, fuel and food costs soar, political corruption abounds, and the pandemic relentlessly continues. In Beirut, which was once called “the Paris of the Middle East,” and where once there was a thriving nightlife, now is a ghost town after dark. I was told “It’s scary now to walk there at night.”
But the Lebanese are nothing if not resilient, and that includes the folks at family-owned Beirut Cafe in Murray. They not only survived closures due to COVID, but are now even thriving – open every day of the week, including Sunday. It doesn’t hurt that the restaurant is large and spacious with a nice patio for folks who prefer to dine outside. And, housed within the restaurant is a Farr Better Ice Cream parlor for those who might want to look beyond baklava for dessert. The restaurant’s owners and staff are very friendly and generous; owner Rodeina Soweidan launched a campaign at Cafe Beirut following the massive explosion at the port of Beirut to gather donations for the Lebanese Red Cross. It’s the kind of restaurant that I am pleased and honored to support.
The menu at Beirut Cafe is extensive, taking up the entire wall behind the counter from which patrons order their meals, which are then delivered to their tables. The Middle Eastern cuisine here ranges from meaty kababs, falafel, Lebanese flatbread “pies,” and a range of salads (tzatziki, Greek, tabbouli, Caesar, fattoush and others), to gyros, kafta, labne, pita wrap sandwiches, three types of hummus, baba ghanouj, kibbeh and desserts such as baklava, cheese kunafa, and nammourah.
There are some combination platters that are helpful in introducing guests to the range of Middle Eastern flavors at Beirut Cafe, such as the Veggie Combo ($11.99) that my wife enjoyed. Everything on the combo plate except the tomatoes and lettuce were made from scratch. There were homemade grape leaves stuffed with chopped greens, rice, herbs and spices; three balls of falafel; and a generous serving of tabouli with fine minced and crushed wheat mixed with tomatoes, scallions and parsley dressed in olive oil and lemon juice on romaine lettuce. And then there was also silky, divine-tasting hummus with pita bread. The hummus is a blend of sesame tahini paste with pureed garbanzo beans, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and garnished with minced parsley leaves. I’ve never tasted hummus that I liked any better than this.
One of the things that makes any meal at Beirut Cafe an extraordinary one is that many of the dishes come with the restaurant’s homemade pita bread, which is absolutely wonderful. The pita is cooked in a special gas-flame oven and comes out warm, puffy and delicious. Also baked in that oven are flatbread pies like the one topped with beef and lamb, a cheese pie with mozzarella, spinach pie, veggie pie, and a thyme pie topped with the restaurant’s own special za’atar mix. But if you try nothing else at Beirut Cafe, you owe it to yourself to at least order a plate of hummus ($5.99) and a piece of that outstanding pita bread ($1.99). It’s life-changing.
Another area in which Beirut Cafe excels is in their falafel. It’s the best falafel I’ve eaten in Utah – crispy delicious patties of ground garbanzos blended with veggies, herbs, sesame seeds and garlic, deep-fried and served with tahini sauce. This is fabulous falafel, my friend, and available as a sandwich/wrap ($7.99) or as a plate ($12.99).
There’s plenty of meat to choose from for carnivores, including chicken and beef shawarma; chicken, lamb and beef kebabs; skewers of kafta; fried kibbeh; chicken shish tawook; and more. I wanted to try an assortment of meats and so I ordered the Mixed Grill ($16.99). This was a large plate – more than I could eat – of skewered and grilled chicken, lamb, and kafta. I especially liked the tender, juicy chicken skewer and the very flavorful kafta, which is basically a sausage-shaped meatball made with ground beef, lamb, onion, spices and herbs. The grilled skewers and kafta were served on a big bed of fluffy turmeric-spiked basmati rice with hints of cinnamon, along with small salad, homemade hummus, and a piece of that perfect pita on the side.
Another thing they do exceptionally well at Beirut Cafe is gyros. Along with the hummus and falafel, I’d add the gyros to being among the best I’ve tasted in the Beehive. Like most everything else at Beirut Cafe, the gyro and shawarma meats are made from scratch, not ordered in a pre-made hunk from Sysco. And when you serve delicious, juicy slices of crispy-edged gyro meat on that heavenly homemade pita, you’ve got a truly great gyro in your hands.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find such authentic Middle Eastern flavors smack dab in the middle of Murray. But, that’s precisely what I found at Beirut Cafe, along with authentic Middle Eastern hospitality and kindness, and all at wallet-friendly prices. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back!
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“Middle Eastern cuisine has the same depth of ingredients and processes as other cuisines. They just haven’t had as much exposure.” — Chef Yotam Ottolenghi
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THIS CONTENT IS FROM UTAH BITES NEWSLETTER.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.