It took the pandemic but I finally made it to Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant in West St. Paul that people have been telling me we should eat at for years. They’ve been open since 1983 (in the same spot? I’m not sure). That makes them older than Babani’s but a few years younger than the original Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, which opened in 1979 in Eagan (though the current location in Burnsville is of a later vintage as is the spin-off Ansari’s in Eagan). As per this write-up in City Pages from a few years ago, in their early years they served a largely American menu with a few Lebanese dishes that got few takers. Now, it’s all Lebanese food all the time, and as far as I can make out, they are a neighbourhood fixture—still run by the same family though I believe the interior has gone through some changes. They are open for socially distanced dining-in but I was there this on Saturday to pick up take-out dinner. Here’s a brief report on what we got.
I ordered and paid over the phone and went in to the restaurant to pick up the food. Accordingly, I can report that it is a charming space and I imagine it has a nice atmosphere when full in normal times. With social distancing they only had a few tables occupied. All the staff were in masks. It’s not the most obviously ventilated space though and despite the spaced tables I don’t think I could see us giving dining in a go under current circumstances. We liked our takeout enough though—despite it sitting in the car during a 45 minute drive—that we will almost certainly return when normalcy—or something resembling it more closely than the present—returns. I believe they also deliver though I am not sure what the range is.
What did we get? The missus and I shared their non-vegetarian “Mezza for 2”. You get a selection of 10 of their mezzes (you don’t get to make the selection), plus 2 kabobs each over pilaf with toum (the classic Lebanese garlic sauce). There are four types of kabobs available, which meant we could try one of each: chicken, beef, kafta (seasoned ground beef) and lamb. We particularly liked the lamb and kafta kabobs and thought the beef was good as well; the chicken we thought was just ordinary. The rice was very nice as was the toum. To see what all the included mezzes were, please refer to the slideshow. I can say that we thought the baba ghanouj was the star here and that we quite like the gyro and the grape leaf roll. The kibbee and the falafel were good too and would doubtless be a lot better coming fresh from the kitchen; ditto for the fried cauliflower which had nice flavour but had inevitably gone more than a bit limp in the time it took to get from the kitchen to our table at home. The boys shared an order of Lebanese shawarma with fries. The shawarma was very tasty as well.
The menu on their website—which I’d consulted while placing the order—does not list desserts but I very cleverly asked what the options were (pictures of the dessert menu are in the slideshow below) and from the available options got the baklava and the shaibiyet (phyllo dough stuffed with thickened cream and baked and then topped with syrup and ground pistachios). Both were sticky and good.
For pictures of the space and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next.
Though I wasn’t there very long, the staff seemed very friendly, very nice. As I say, we liked the food well enough that we will return for a proper dine-in meal once we feel safe enough about dining in anywhere again. I expect we’ll like some of these dishes even more then.
I’m not sure where next week’s pandemic takeout review will come from but I’m curious to know if anyone has any experience of the Lucky China restaurant located a few hundred feet from Beirut. Though you can’t see it in the pictures above, their sign says “Chinese and Korean food” and I’m guessing that means the ownership is Korean. Worth a try at some point? If you have first-hand experience, do write in below.