DINING: Two tastes of Lebanon – Sammy’s and Skewers

Years ago, my husband used to return home from trips to Beirut with stories of the exotic dishes he had enjoyed there.

Alas, I am probably never going to make it to Lebanon, but there are a couple of restaurants in this area that feature this most popular of all Middle Eastern cuisines.

Both restaurants, Sammy’s Mediterranean Café in Vero Beach and Skewers Mediterranean Grille in Indialantic, offer a selection of familiar Greek and American dishes for the timid diner.

But for the more adventuresome, both also offer the traditional Lebanese tastes my husband remembers from cafés along Rue Hamra, which in the ’60s and ’70s was Beirut’s Champs Elysées.

On a recent visit to Skewers, which was packed on a Wednesday evening, our party of three started with falafel ($7.90), stuffed grape leaves ($7.90), baba ghanouj ($6.75) and tabouleh ($7.25).

The baba ghanouj, grilled eggplant blended with tahini, fresh garlic and lemon, was excellent, as were the dolmades, as the grape leaves were called in Lebanon. The tabouleh – a parsley salad with bulgur wheat, vine-ripe tomato and red onion, tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice – was very light and refreshing.

Then for entrées, I had the New Zealand lamb chops ($23.90), my husband ordered the kibbeh ($19.90) and our companion decided to go with the butterfly combination ($19.90).

The lamb chops were tasty (though not the choicest cut). The kibbeh – a finely ground sirloin and bulgur wheat shell, encasing sautéed ground sirloin, red onions and pinenuts – was good, but the best dish of the three was the butterfly combo: humus, tabbouleh, sirloin grape leaves, kafta and garlic chicken over jasmine rice.

On a visit a couple of nights later to Sammy’s, which by the way also was packed, we started with the caramelized cauliflower ($9.95) and kibbeh ($6.95) appetizers ($6.95). Our companion tried a cup of lentil soup ($4.95).

The cauliflower appetizer was a winner. When you roast cauliflower to the point that you think you might be overdoing it, the high heat caramelizes it, leaving a slightly sweet interior and a crispy crunch around the edges. Served with tahini (a sesame seed paste), this dish was divine.

Then for main courses, I had the sajuk ($15.95), this time my husband tried the lamb chops ($26.95) and our companion opted for the dolmades ($9.95).

Sajuk is a semi-dry spicy lamb sausage that has its roots in Lebanon’s Armenian community. Sammy sautées it with fresh mushrooms, onions and tomato, and serves it with rice pilaf and pita. If you like sausage, this is a wonderful dish. It may even have been better than Sammy’s four beautiful little New Zealand lamb chops, perfectly grilled medium rare and very tender.

Both of these restaurants have their strong points (the service at Skewers was fantastic, and they occasionally feature a belly dancer; Sammy personally tries to make every customer happy).

One thing you can say about both is they are authentic. Skewers was named the Lebanese Gourmet before 9/11, and the Lebanese dishes of both restaurants are the real deal.

If you are craving tastes of Lebanon and the Levant during a difficult era when not many of us are inclined to go visit, either Skewers in Indialantic or Sammy’s on the edge of Vero’s old downtown are very much worth a try.

Better yet, try both.

I welcome your comments, and encourage you to send feedback to me at tina@verobeach32963.com.

The reviewer dines anonymously at restaurants at the expense of Vero Beach 32963.

Leave a Comment