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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Babani’s claims to be the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States. I say “claims” not because I have any reason to doubt them but because their origin story starts with the wonderful first sentence, “There was, there wasn’t…” This origin story, which is plastered on their website and on their menu (you can read it below) may be—despite some poor proofreading—the most original in the admittedly not-very studied genre of restaurant origin stories: charming despite presenting some rather old-fashioned views of the relationship between men and women; substituting for desultory listings of kitchen antecedents and wealthy backers, a playful tale of immigrant movement and desire that is as touching as it is tall.
A Kurdish restaurant in Minnesota? Why not? There are plenty of us here who never expected to end up in a place like this, so different from the climates—emotional and physical—we grew up in. The story of what it means to be Minnesotan is still being written. Continue reading