Imagine you’re in a cozy mountain cabin in Lebanon, eating delicious home-cooked food.
But you don’t have to imagine this. You can experience it right here, at the Beirut Cafe in Burbank. Step inside and you are in a wood-paneled room with just seven tables. The owners are Joelle and Jimmy Awad, siblings from Faraya, a mountain village in northern Lebanon. Jimmy Awad is the chef. Joelle Awad runs the front of house and takes over the kitchen when her brother is away. A prep cook is their only helper.
The Awads cook dishes they learned from generations of family. Their mother, Alice Awad, contributes her own specialties, such as kebeh b’laban, a yogurt-garlic stew with meatballs, and stuffed eggplant in tomato garlic sauce. These aren’t on a regular schedule. You have to call and ask what Alice has come up with that day.
Joelle Awad goes to Lebanon once a year, bringing back new ideas, spices and accessories such as the miniature red fezzes in which meal checks are presented. The village painting in the restroom is her work.
The lengthy menu ranges from hummus, which is prepared fresh daily, to a whole sheep’s head, a hard-to-find Lebanese delicacy called nifa. “We get a lot of orders from those who know about it,” Joelle Awad says. On certain days there’s fresh whole branzino, fried or grilled and served Lebanese style with French fries, fried pita, lemons and tahini sauce sprinkled with paprika.
Jimmy Awad’s beef shwarma is fragrant with cumin, allspice, cinnamon and a seven-spice mixture, all from Lebanon. To make kafta kebabs, he mixes ground beef with parsley, onions, allspice, cumin and salt and threads the little kebabs on skewers for grilling. Chicken breast kebabs come with garlic sauce. There’s chicken shwarma, too.
The grilled meats can be ordered in sandwiches or as plates that include salad, hummus and rice flecked with golden strands of fried vermicelli.
Vegetables get special attention, too. Fried cauliflower is vegan, although the sauce on the side looks creamy. To make the white layer, lemon juice is squeezed over mashed garlic. The yellow layer on top is olive oil and salt. The cauliflower isn’t breaded but lightly browned from brief frying, just 15 seconds. The traditional way to eat this is to wrap the florets in pita and dip in the sauce.
Spicy diced potatoes are sauteed in a lemony garlic sauce with cilantro and paprika. They’re called spicy because of the paprika, not hot seasoning.
The salad fatoush mixes lettuce and vegetables with olive oil, lemon juice, sumac and crushed dried mint. Toasty baked pita crisps serve as croutons. Other than pita, which is delivered fresh daily, everything is made in-house.
To start, choose from a long list of mezza. And end with baklava. Filled with walnuts and sprinkled with pistachios, it’s light and flaky, not sticky sweet with syrup.
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Even the drinking water has a Lebanese touch — a dash of orange blossom water. Try also jallab, made with a fruity syrup that Joelle Awad brings from Lebanon.
And be sure to have the cafe’s special cardamom-laced coffee. Brewed to order over open flames, it’s served in handsome brass pots from Lebanon. The little cups on the side are decorated with the Lebanese flag and a greeting in Arabic that speaks for the Awads: “Welcome.”
Beirut Cafe, 400 S. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank; (818) 845-0028, beirutcaffe.com/menus. Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., noon-9 p.m. Alice Awad’s specialties are available Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.