Lebanese cuisine made to order, at a good price


October 13, 2004|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After several weeks away, I finally made it back to the Kebab Belt -- that dining paradise filled with restaurants offering grilled meats in the traditions of countries surrounding the Mediterranean.

And what a pleasurable return it was, thanks to the fine cooks at the Lebanese Taverna Cafe outside Annapolis.

Part of a small Washington-area chain, the Taverna has been producing Lebanese offerings for a quarter century. The outpost near Annapolis sits in a busy shopping center and has a handsome stone floor, mellow track lighting and walls painted in muted green, yellow and rust.

While the decor was somewhat upscale, the prices were not. Service was reasonably brisk, given that the food is cooked to order. And the food? Terrific.

A chicken kebab ($9.75) featured several chunks of delicious breast meat that had been nicely charred with onions over a grill and served with rice, a small salad and two big, puffy pita breads.

Fatteh bathenjan ($8.95), a vegetarian offering, brought together roasted eggplant, chickpeas and sauteed pine nuts, accompanied by a mild yogurt sauce. Fried pieces of pita provided a crunchy complement to the veggies.

A lamb kebab ($10.95) was also a winner -- grilled meat that remained slightly pink and juicy inside. And we loved the salmon harra ($10.75) -- a good-sized, grilled fillet served over a nicely tangy tomato sauce laced with cilantro and pine nuts.

Less pricey but also good were two pita sandwiches. One, with marinated beef ($5.50), was served with a nice tahini sauce. The chicken shawarma ($5.50) also had marinated meat, this time served with a garlic-flavored sauce. Grape leaves ($3.95) were stuffed with a modest amount of rice, and seasoned with lemon and a hint of mint.

There were two desserts listed on the menu, Lebanese-style rice pudding with rose water, which the cafe was out of, and baklava ($1.75). It was a small flaky concoction that did not send anybody into orbit, but disappeared in any case.

The Taverna is in the Annapolis Harbour Center near U.S. 50; there is plenty of parking out front.

Lebanese Taverna Cafe

Food: ***1/2

Service: ***

Waiting area: ***

Parking: ***

Where: 2478 Solomons Island Road, Annapolis Harbour Center, near Annapolis

Phone: 410-897-1111

Web site: www.lebane setaverna.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Lebanese appetizers, soups, salads, grilled dishes, falafel, roasted chicken and kebabs, $3.50 to $12.50; credit cards accepted

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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