Lebanese dishes such as kebabs and salad are light and bright for spring.
Photo courtesy of sagelebanesecuisine.com
Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Café | 319 Fairhope Ave. | Fairhope, AL 36532 | 251-517-7536
The flavors of the Mediterranean are perfect for spring. It’s never a heavy affair. The fresh parsley and lemon of tabouli can brighten a day, as can the mint of well-executed labneh. I love a good beer with shawarma, but you could certainly pair a sauvignon blanc with chicken or perhaps a very chilled riesling if the dish is spicy.
It’s the perfect time in Mobile and the Eastern Shore for these flavors to blossom. Hand-in-hand with dining al fresco, Mediterranean freshness blends in with the blooming spring flowers and warm days with cool nights that ambiguously call for a light jacket or short sleeves. The choice depends on whether you tend to hang on to the last precious days of winter’s chill or embrace the impending Alabama sauna, surely just around the corner.
Katie and I met the evening with our attire somewhere in between as we made our way to Fairhope. We have been excited about Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Café for quite some time, we just haven’t had a kid-free moment to try it out. She and I left our Mississippi Easter with young Henry under the care of baby whisperers Khaki and Carol, grandmothers extraordinaire, and found our week of near solitude a bit on the hungry side.
Sage has been all over the news recently. It has become a favorite of movie stars calling Fairhope their temporary home while shooting on location. Liam Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Vince Vaughn, Casey Affleck and Jason Segel are some of the notable silver screeners to find a seat in the Fairhope Avenue eatery. The high praise, gilded compliments and social media posts have certainly spiked the profile of this young restaurant, only a few years old.
With celeb-power and a solid reputation, we were interested, but even more so because Katie’s mother, Carol, attended the Beirut College for Women her freshman year. She carries with her some of the flavor profiles that make this food so special, no doubt from her time spent overseas before returning to her beloved Mississippi. I’m fortunate enough to at least get Christmas and Easter glimpses into her cookbook. I thought it would be nice to compare a little of what she does with Sage.
We were seated indoors, a small dining area with a separate (tonight, unused) back room and a front patio that holds no more than three or four tables. I was delighted to see it was cozier, more inviting and friendly. I was also excited to see a well-stocked bar and decent wine list. We each began with a glass of Vrac rosé ($7).
I suggested the Sriracha and jalapeño hummus, but Katie seemed less enthused. We thought perhaps tabouli, then tossed around a couple of other ideas and finally went the safer route with the meza mixer ($14.95). This is, of course, the appetizer sampler. I’m not crazy about stuffed grape leaves, but these were small and tight as a pen, more of a cigarette than cigar, and better than most. The garlic labneh was probably my favorite on the tiny pita bread strips with a hint of garlic and very present mint. The hummus was nothing to sneeze at, fresh and bright. The small bit of moussaka was but a preview of what was to come.
I would say the meza mixer was a good cross section of appetizers. My regret is not getting to try the tabouli.
We were encouraged to order our entrees at the same time as our appetizers, so I already knew what we were having. As much as I enjoyed the rosé, I knew it was time to shift gears. My favored cabernet didn’t come by the glass, so I had the Argyle pinot noir ($12). Willamette is famous for dirty pinot noir, and this isn’t a bad one. It, at least, was better suited for our kebab mixer ($25.95).
These three kebabs certainly fit a low-carb lifestyle. The kafta kebab is the ground beef, sharply seasoned and cooked well done. It’s served with a thin tahini sauce on the side. The chicken kebab was a strong offering. This was Katie’s favorite, served with a white garlic sauce. I wouldn’t call it spicy, but the meat had a salty, almost cinnamon flavor to it. I liked it better than the (still good) kafta, but I preferred the shish kebab to them both. This one was medium rare, as I had ordered, and full of flavor.
The accompanying house salad with light, oily dressing and turmeric rice were very filling without feeling too heavy.
Here is where things get interesting. I wasn’t leaving without trying the moussaka platter ($14.95). Moussaka is one of my favorite things Carol cooks. Hers is basically lasagna with sliced eggplant in place of noodles, and topped with béchamel sauce. We ate ourselves sick on it the last time she sent home a pan. The version here is more like an eggplant stew.
We’d had a preview of it earlier in the evening but got the whole experience as an entrée. It’s healthy, bright and good. The thick stew is served over the turmeric rice and with the same house salad as the other entrée. I shouldn’t compare it to Carol’s, as it would be apples to oranges, but if she asks which I like better, you probably know what the smart answer is.
They were out of baklava and offered tiramisu, but it was the kanafeh duo ($9) that had our attention. It was basically shredded phyllo dough and cheese baked with a sweet syrup to produce something that looked a little like hash browns. This was right up Katie’s alley, and she paired it with a Turkish coffee ($3.99) while I had a Dixie ($4.50). The Dixie was as sweet as I remember and could be considered a dessert beer.
This place is on fire right now. Everything was really great, and the staff was friendly. We didn’t wait long for anything and enjoyed our time together when we had a moment between courses. If you’ve not been, try it out. Now is the perfect time to go, especially if you’re famous.
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