More than a year has passed since City Council's specific use permit policies went into effect on Lower Greenville Avenue, shuttering many bars and crippling small businesses that depend on late-night alcohol sales as an important part of their revenues. The ordinance was sold as a means to clean up what had been considered a troubled strand of crime-ridden and undesirable bars, but it has caused headaches for all Greenville Avenue businesses that want to keep their doors open past midnight, reputable or otherwise.
Council Member Angela Hunt, who has voted to deny several permits to Greenville Avenue property owners, said the area "deserves a more balanced neighborhood — more shopping, more community retail," in a recent Dallas Morning News article. Meanwhile, much of the real estate along the blocks-long stretch sits vacant.
While most restaurants depend on alcohol sales to keep up the bottom line, brothers Sam and Mo Khazem have taken a different tack when opening their first spot. Qariah Restaurant and Lounge, the casual Lebanese cafe and lounge at the southern end of the strand, has adopted a BYOB policy from the start. That's not the unusual part. Because of the time required to wend through the process of getting a beverage license, restaurant owners often start off letting diners bring their own drinks, allowing the restaurants to earn some money while the city and state bureaucracies move in their ineffable ways. For the Khazen brothers, though, BYOB isn't a stopgap; they never plan to serve booze. Sam says he'd rather focus on cooking good food.
Qariah opened quietly in mid-October in a street-level retail space beneath luxury apartments that had been vacant since the building was built in 2005. The Khazens first looked in Plano and other suburban environments but thought Lower Greenville area was "up and coming," Sam says. Since they had no plans to serve booze, City Hall's SUP restrictions were moot, and the increased foot traffic promised by a potentially revitalized neighborhood was more attractive than occupying a suburban strip mall.
While waiting for the shopping and retail outlets that mark a more balanced neighborhood to open, Sam Khazen admits that business has been spotty. "Greenville Avenue is hard to predict," he says when asked how his restaurant was doing over its first two months. "It's been on and off." He sounds hopeful, though, pointing out that he has yet to start advertising.
Perhaps the smell of freshly baked pita bread and savory shawarma will draw some customers in. While Sam works the front of the house, Mo dons a chef hat behind the counter, rolling out thin disks of white flour dough that quickly puff into softball-shaped rounds in the gas-fired brick oven that greets customers as they walk through the door.
If you've come for lunch, don't look for a menu. Simply order your drink and make your way to the buffet that frames the open kitchen. Fresh salads and dips such as fattoush, hummus and an eggplant puree are a light, fresh and healthy option to supplement the grilled chicken and stewed meats you can eat till you pop. Compared with other Middle Eastern buffets in East Dallas, Qariah's is fairly priced at $12.99, and the quality is superb — especially considering it comes with an endless procession of that pita bread.
Tear a loaf in half and stuff two crisp falafels, a hefty pinch of tabbouleh and a generous smear of hummus into the pocket. That makes one hell of a sandwich.
Too bad the other sandwiches that are actually printed on the menu aren't available during the day, which most of us view as sandwich time. Qariah serves only the buffet for lunch, and regular dinner service starts at 5 p.m. Come then to enjoy some of the better shawarma available in Dallas.
While many Middle Eastern restaurants make use of prefabricated shawarma cones, the tiny meatsicles you see pirouetting on vertical roasters in the front of Qariah are assembled at the restaurant. Mo marinades chicken and beef overnight before stacking it on the vertical spit to slowly roast and baste in its own succulence.
When you order a sandwich, a cook shaves meat from the cone and gathers lettuce, sliced tomato and fried potatoes and wraps it all in store-bought bread, creating something like a burrito with a tangy garlic sauce. The resultant sandwich is absolutely delicious, and at $6, it's a steal no matter what time of day it is.
If sandwiches after sunset aren't your thing, the shawarma can be ordered as a platter with many of the sides available at the buffet. The kitchen also fires up traditional beef and chicken kebabs, lamb chops and house-made kafta, a hand-formed sausage of ground beef. (Avoid the fish, which is bland, overcooked and boring.)
Mo's cooking is clean and simple, as evidenced by irregular grape leaves stuffed with rice and seasoned with lemon. Parsley is coarsely chopped and mixed with sparse tomatoes and bulgur wheat for an outstanding tabouleh, and hummus tastes simply of chickpea puree without too much tahini to muddle the flavors of the humble legume. The brothers credit frequent trips back to Lebanon for keeping their recipe work sharp.
They take full credit for decorating the restaurant as well. For their debut spot, the Khazen brothers have done a decent job at building out the space on their own. It's a little cavernous, with high ceilings and a slightly empty feel, but glass tiles on the back wall in gold and earth tones tease the eyes with their buzzy repetition.
Out front a massive patio draws customers to heat lamps in the cool evening air. They've come to graze on small plates and draw on hookahs while sipping wine they picked out from their favorite local store. Of all the patio spaces to occupy in the neighborhood, Qariah's seems the busiest, at least for now — even with the string of nearby leasing signs flapping in the evening breeze.
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