Jeff Smith noon, July 25
Manakeesh at Sajj Mediterranean Grill
Sajj is the name of the domed, cast-iron oven that bakes the fresh bread at this Lebanese restaurant in Hillcrest at the corner of University and Normal Street. The grill is a fascinating piece of equipment and all the best dishes at the restaurant are organized around the crispy flatbread that gets served hot and marked from the hemisphere of the Sajj.
The design of the restaurant offers lots of breeze to diners and, though the particular stretch of University isn't the quietest or most scenic for patio seating, the en plein air atmosphere evokes some nice, Mediterranean sentiments.
Table service was a pleasant surprise in the face of the take-out appearance of the restaurant and the girls who work the register and run the food were both very friendly.
The specialty of the house, according to those same friendly girls, is the manakeesh. In it's most basic form, manakeesh is a slice of the freshly griddled bread that's been spread with a mixture of herbs and olive oil for $2.49. The "supreme" manakeesh at the other end of the spectrum also contained cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, mint, and grilled chicken. The chicken was a touch on the dry side as it seemed to be only breast meat. Redolent of fresh herbs, briny olives, and snappy cucumbers, the manakeesh did prove to be extremely satisfying with a lighter flavor than the yoghurt and tahini smothered wraps that are more typical of Lebanese and other Middle Eastern restaurants.
One nice touch: before the sandwich was served, one of the girls brought out a little dish of salted carrots with a touch of lemon juice.
The menu, of course, extends far beyond the manakeesh. There are different kabob plates and a series of salads and shawarma sandwiches. Nevertheless, it's the manakeesh that stand out as something more than "just another gyros."
A short selection of beers is available in bottles, and some different drinks including the salty, yoghurt beverage that's sometimes found in Middle Eastern establishments and is a taste worth acquiring.
1459 University Avenue
Open daily at 11