Around D.C. and Annapolis, the Lebanese Taverna restaurants are known for their Middle Eastern food and a feeling of family. That could be because the five restaurants, three cafes and one market all are owned and run by the five brothers and sisters of D.C.'s Abi-Najm family.
"Our family has been in the business for 28 years, when our parents started as a neighborhood restaurant in Arlington," says Grace Abi-Najm, the youngest of the five siblings. "We all grew up working in the restaurant, and what we've tried to do [with each successive venture] is to duplicate that original neighborhood feel."
No stranger to a "neighborhood feel," Baltimore is about to get the newest Lebanese Taverna. Any day now, its doors should be opening in Harbor East.
Abi-Najm says there's a lot of similarity between this restaurant and the others. And a few differences.
Her favorite difference? The bathrooms. She says you'll find totally enclosed private stalls, each with its own mirror and sink. Outside them, there is a large common area for both men and women with stone sinks.
"[With Middle Eastern cuisine] we eat a lot with our hands, with bread, so a lot of times you just need to wash your hands."
Another unique feature of Baltimore's Taverna is the captain's table in the bar area. It's a long table with 14 stools, where people can eat communally. It also can be reserved for large parties. In addition to the bar, there are booths and tables in the room to seat a total of 60.
Abi-Najm describes the decor as "mixing modern with ancient Mesopotamia." The restaurant has lots of earth tones and textures like stone, tile and glass. The bar is sleek and made of zebrawood with a granite top, with halogen drop lighting.
She says the dining room has the same color scheme, with wood tables and fabric chairs that make the area "warm and comfy, like we're welcoming guests into our home."
The menu is the same as at other Lebanese Tavernas. There's an extensive "mezza," or small plates, menu, which includes shrimp katafy, lightly breaded in shredded phyllo, fried and served with a tahini pistachio sauce ($8.95); maanek, spiced beef and lamb sausages sauteed in lemon butter ($6.95); and tabbouleh, the traditional parsley salad with bulgur wheat, diced tomatoes, onions and fresh mint ($6.50).
There is also a large entree menu, with the likes of mehshi bel zeit, vegetable of the day stuffed with rice, tomato and pine nuts served over tomato sauce ($13.95); lamb kebab ($17.50); and fatteh bel djaje, seasoned chunks of chicken breast layered over chickpeas on toasted Lebanese bread, smothered in warm yogurt sauce, pine nuts and garlic ($14.95).
We can't leave out the bread. Abi-Najm says it's a pocket bread baked fresh all day and it comes to your table piping hot.
You'll find Lebanese Taverna, 410-244-5533, at 719 S. President St., in the Spinnaker Bay building. The entire restaurant is nonsmoking. Its starting hours will be 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
If you have information regarding a local restaurant's opening, closing or major changes, please e-mail that information to sloane@ sloanebrown.com or fax it to 410-675-3451.