Food & Wine takes a trip over to Little Lebanon
Raymonda "Ray" Risley's vision for opening a restaurant began when she moved to America 12 years ago.
No matter where she went, she couldn't find Lebanese manakeesh bi zataar -- freshly toasted bread topped with herbs and spices.
"You could find it in Arabic stores but frozen," said Risley, a native of Lebanon. "And I do not like frozen."
Today, the restaurant is reality and "frozen" doesn't even enter the equation.
Risley, nee Khairallah, and her husband, Eric, have opened Little Lebanon Bakery & Bistro in the Polaris area. It offers European-style desserts and savory Middle Eastern dishes, all made from scratch.
Eric Risley, who has a background in finance and banking, runs the front of the house, while Mrs. Risley does all of the cooking.
"I'm not allowed in the kitchen," Mr. Risley said.
Among the attractions are three types of bread: thin, thick and puffy. Patrons will have a choice of toppings, including a spice mixture, cheese and chocolate spread topped with bananas and peanuts. All breads are baked to order in the front of the house.
The setup at Little Lebanon is cafeteria style: Patrons walk in and order at the counter and either take their food to go or grab a table.
Two dessert cases positioned at the counter are filled with fresh-baked goods, such as cake, tiramisu, cheesecake, eclairs and cream horns.
Mrs. Risley will go the extra step by making pate a choux and puff pastry from scratch. Dessert options change daily.
"My menu is not going to be the same, always new in the display," she said. "Every time you come in there will be something new to taste."
Little Lebanon, 8495 Sancus Blvd., opens at 7 a.m. daily, offering pastries and coffee or tea to the early-morning crowd.
Popular Middle Eastern sides -- tabouleh, hummus, falafel, fatoush salad and babagnoush -- are served. Little Lebanon also offers popular meat dishes, such as beef, chicken or lamb shawarma, and kafta kebab.
All are served as warm pita sandwiches stuffed with vegetables, a choice of tahini, hummus or garlic sauce, and fries -- fresh-cut, of course.
The Risleys said they have kept the menu small and manageable, but intend to expand the offerings along the way. Most options are in the $5 to $7 range. The focus on fast and fresh should be an added draw for nearby workers and shoppers, he said.
Even as Polaris teems with food options, Mr. Risley says he likes the demographics and traffic counts at Sancus Boulevard and Lazelle Road.
"It's a busy intersection," he said. "We have great surroundings."
The restaurant is open breakfast, lunch and dinner hours daily. For more information, call 614-781-1814.