By now (based on how many reviews I’ve done for restaurants in this particular vein), it should be readily apparent that I’m a sucker for good Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Cuisine. I hadn’t been introduced to it until almost a decade ago, when I visited a (now gone) Firdous location in Upper Arlington that had, in my opinion, the best schwarma and hummus platter that money could buy. I was absolutely crestfallen when they closed up shop.
Imagine my delight when I found out that Firdous’ former owner, Nasir Latif, had opened up a new venture called Lavash Cafe, a fast casual (think in the realm of Aladdin’s, but locally owned) restaurant smack dab right there in Clintonville. Not only would I get the opportunity to taste my favorites once again, but another restaurant in a place that’s sorely hurting for restaurants? There are no losers in this equation.
The space is very wide open and well-decorated, with great use of textures and fabrics (especially lining the one wall). Upon entering, you’re greeted with the smiling faces of the employees, an overhead menu board, and a two huge display cases – one of a dozen or more types of Middle Eastern pastries, another with kebabs and keftas just waiting to be grilled to order. It took us a few minutes of craning our necks to decide, but ultimately we decided to get several different dishes to try as much as possible, leftovers be damned.
We started with an order of Kibbeh ($2.50), which is a cracked bulghur wheat and meat shell surrounding nicely seasoned meat. This is as good as any variation on this dish I’ve tried, and the homemade lebneh (very thick strained plain yogurt) served with it was a nice touch.
Wanting to have an opportunity to try as many of their appetizers as possible, we ordered the Lavash Combo ($8.25), which pairs their hummus, tabouleh, falafel and stuffed grape leaves on a single plate. Their hummus is smooth and flavorful, and just as I remembered. The falafel are exceptional – on my next visit, I’ll be ordering them for sure (and at 6 for $2.50, it’s quite the deal). I was indifferent about the tabouleh and stuffed grape leaves (personal preference – I prefer kisir to tabouleh because I like more wheat than parsley, and I prefer my grape leaves to be more sweet than these were), but my husband who is a purist said that both were quite excellent and a good interpretation of a classic dish.
Of course, a huge basket of fluffy pita was provided, and refilled quickly and with friendly service when we ran low.
The Baba Ganoush ($3.50) was out of this world – nice and smoky in flavor, and with a superb smooth texture and wonderful mouth feel, we scooped this up quickly and happily and quickly declared it the best we’ve had so far in Columbus.
I’m not one to usually get beverages with my meals (I’m almost exclusively a water drinker), but a smoothie sounded too good to pass up. This Strawberry Smoothie ($3.85) was a bit smaller than I expected, but refreshing nonetheless.
One of the great things about Lavash Cafe is that they allow you to modify entrees slightly to suit your needs. They let me add lamb and chicken (for an additional $2.50) to an otherwise vegetarian dish. Their Mojadara ($7.25), aka lentil rice, had spot on flavor and texture, and was even better than most I’ve had with the addition of wonderful caramelized onions on top. It was served with a Lavash salad, which is a refreshing combination of cucumbers and tomatoes in a tahini dressing. The addition of the meat was just what this dish needed. The lamb was mildly spiced, whereas the chicken was a little more in your face, but in a good way (I think I detected ras el hanout as the spice blend, but I’m not positive). My only complaint is that the chicken was a bit on the dry side.
My husband went with the Chicken Schwarma platter ($8.50), which paired the same type of chicken I had added to my dish with a serving of saffron rice. We’re not exactly sure what kind of sauce it was paired with, but it complemented it nicely.
His entree also came with a side salad, nice and fresh and chock full of crunchy vegetables.
We love the pastries, so we got a few to take with us – pictured here ($1.50 each) are the bassma, cashew finger, and one which we didn’t get the name of, but is basically a honey soaked cake.
We’ll definitely be back – Lavash Cafe fills many voids for us: the return of fresh and fast Mediterranean, a place to eat when we’re hanging out in Clintonville, and lots of friendly faces. They haven’t been open long, but I’m predicting that precisely because they do what they do so well, they’ll be one of the few success stories that manage to perservere despite this being a really tough time to open a new restaurant.
If you’d like to go: Lavash Cafe, 2985 N. High Street, Clintonville, 614.263.7777