Ansari’s has been around in Eagan for almost as long as we’ve been around in Minnesota and yet I was not aware of their existence until I saw them included a month or so ago on some website or the other’s list of “hidden gems” of the Twin Cities’ east metro. I was chagrined to discover that we’ve been driving past them on a near-weekly basis for the last 10 years! They are located in a strip-mall right where Cliff Rd. hits the 35E. In our defense, they’re not visible from the freeway, and I don’t think too many people have ever driven to Eagan expecting to find a Middle Eastern restaurant there. Well, this one is there and—based on our recent lunch—while I would not drive to Eagan expressly to eat there, I am happy to add them to my list of south metro establishments to eat at on the way back from the airport or from Ikea or similar. That is to say, the food was not amazing but it was more than serviceable. Details follow.
As per our friendly server, the restaurant is now owned by a pair (?) of brothers. Their father apparently was the owner of the original Mediterranean Cruise Cafe in Eagan. At some point in the last decade that restaurant moved and became the current Mediterranean Cruise Cafe in Burnsville, under the ownership of the uncle of the owners of Ansari’s. I’ve seen it in the distance while going to Tawakal—if you have any intel on the quality of their food, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime, here is some intel on Ansari’s.
It’s a large restaurant—though seemingly not as large as the Burnsville operation—with a dining room right as you enter and then lots of booth and table seating along both sides of the bar area. There also appears to be an outdoor seating area that must be popular in the summer. We, however, were there in the late fall and there was no question of sitting outside. The restaurant was quite busy for a Saturday lunch. This may be down both to a sort of sports bar’ish atmosphere at the large bar area and to the fact that the menu includes with its pan-Mediterranean sweep things like burgers, pizzas, wings, fried calamari and nachos (!), We were conservative and restricted ourselves to trying their Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes.
There were seven of us but only four adults and so we could not do too much damage. What did we eat? We split a bunch of things:
- A large Mediterranean platter which included kibbeh, falafel, hummus, spanakopita, gyros and a large salad with pita on the side. It was all tasty enough though the gyros were cut a little thicker than I am accustomed to.
- An order of baba ghanoush. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but out of the blue I began eating eggplant a couple of months ago and so I can give you my own impressions of the dish while not having any frame of reference for it. In short, it was tasty but didn’t have much of a smoked eggplant flavour.
- Ful medames or fava beans dressed with lemon, garlic, herbs etc. Quite nice.
- The mixed grill comes with a choice of two kinds of kababs. We asked for the lamb and kufta but they brought out lamb and chicken. When we drew our server’s attention to this she added on the kufta kabab at no extra charge. I’m glad she brought out the kufta kabab as it was the pick of the bunch. The lamb was very nice too but the chicken was a bit blah. These were served with something called Greek chips but what made them Greek, I couldn’t tell you.
- Lamb shank, stewed and served over rice with the jus on the side. The lamb was meltingly tender and tasty.
- Our boys got the gyros plate and rather enjoyed it. The other kid in attendance got the kids’ grilled cheese, which came with fries.
Launch the slideshow for a look at the restaurant and the food. Scroll down for thoughts on service and value.
Service was very friendly and—kufta kabab confusion aside—very on top of things. The bill came to $95 with tax. We left a >20% tip as the kids managed to spill more than one drink. Was it good value? Well, the food was all tasty enough and we took some leftovers home, but I wouldn’t describe it as a steal for what it was. The lamb shank and the kufta kabab were very good but the rest were just fine. There’s nothing wrong with just fine, of course, and, as I said, I’d be happy to eat here again if in the general neighbourhood and looking for something that’s not a chain. And I’d be happy to give them another go regardless to try more of the menu. I will stick with going at lunch though—at dinner there’s apparently bellydancing and in general I prefer to be in denial about bellies while eating.