Five-course trip to Lebanon
Middle East flavors are on the menu for weekend dinners at Washington Street Cafe
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Fans of the Lebanese dinners once served at the Durgin Lane Deli in Concord can once again enjoy the Mediterranean-style meal at the Washington Street Café. Owners John Hanna and Marie Ishac-Hanna have brought back the special weekend dinner, much to the delight of area foodies.
“We stopped them when we had our first child,” Marie said. “Then we sold the deli when we had the second child. I wanted to stay home and be with my children.”
Now that the Hannas’ sons are older, they decided it would be a good idea to bring back the five-course dinners on Fridays and Saturdays. From the first night — Valentine’s Day — the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People who came before said, ‘Please don’t stop the dinners again,’” Marie said.
Since 1985, the couple, who are originally from Beirut, Lebanon, owned and operated both locations, until Durgin Lane was sold in 2000. In their native country, John was a lawyer and Marie studied economics. They came to the United States for a visit, but because of the unrest in Lebanon, they weren’t able to return.
The Lebanese-Mediterranean dinner begins with a selection of appetizers, such as humus, tomato-basil feta spread, homemade pita and marinated almonds, which Marie calls fresh soaked almonds.
“In Lebanon, we actually eat almonds before the shell hardens. By soaking the hard ones you go back to that flavor,” Marie said.
Second is the soup course, with selections such as the classic Greek chicken lemon or a lentil and Swiss chard. That is followed by a tabooli salad. For the entrée, customers choose from a lamb, beef, chicken or vegetarian dish, and on occasion a seafood selection will be available. One recent menu featured lamb hand-rolled in grape leaves; beef kibbe with tzatziki sauce; lemon and olive chicken tagine; a couscous and seafood bowl and falafel. Dessert is often baklava served with Turkish coffee.
“We change the menu items every three weeks or so,” Marie said. “People come for the lamb and exotic things. We are still testing to see what dishes are best and getting a lot of feedback.”
Of course, the café offers more than the weekend dinners. It is open each weekday and serves a wide variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads. The place was already a deli-style restaurant when the Hannas took over. They kept the basic sandwich selections (roast beef, turkey, ham, tuna, Italian, etc.) and added some of their own items, such as the curry chicken salad and vegetarian roll-ups.
“People’s palates have changed,” Marie said. “We cater to a different clientele than in the past. Tastes are healthier. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to like that kind of food. We change the menu once every two years or so. You can’t stay in the past.”
The café seats 32 people. Though reservations are not necessary for the Lebanese dinners, they are accepted for large groups. The dinner cost is $22.95 per person, and customers are welcome to bring their own wine.