Shouf’s Cafe can fill your belly with Mediterranean cuisine and comfort food
Mediterranean cuisine is not only healthy, it’s delicious.
This cuisine of the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea has always been a part of my diet. Growing up, I constantly hit up local Greek church food festivals religiously with my friends, dining on plates of moussaka, grape leaves and lamb shish kabobs with fervor. We did this summer after summer, and still do to this day.
When food festivals aren’t in season, one place to get your fix of Mediterranean cuisine year-round is Shouf’s Cafe in Bridgeville. This gem could be overlooked at first, being surrounded by strip malls and chain restaurants. But once you find it, Shouf’s will be on your radar forever.
Shouf’s serves up Lebanese cuisine in an approachable way. For those who don’t know Mediterranean cuisine, specifically Lebanese, you will enter Shouf’s as a novice, greeted by the friendly owner, Rabih Fahed. But you will leave as part of the Shouf’s family with your belly full of exotic comfort food.
Deciphering the menu might seem intimidating, as many of the dishes may seem unfamiliar. On a recent visit, my waitress recommended ordering a few appetizers for the table to share, one of the best ways to experience the variety of the menu. I recommend you do the same.
Start off with the mazza platter: a combination consisting of hummus, baba ghannouj and tabbouli, served with pieces of fresh and creamy feta cheese, pickled turnips, olives and a basket filled with warm triangles of thin pita bread. The hummus — mashed chickpeas bended with tahini (sesame sauce), garlic and lemon — is creamy, smooth and tart.
For more intense flavor, the baba ghannouj — mashed eggplant blended with tahini, garlic and lemon — is equally as smooth, but has a vibrant, smoky flavor.
To round out this trip of dips, the tabbouli — made with parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and bulgur wheat tossed in a dressing of garlic, lemon, olive oil and mint — is bright, crunchy and earthy. If you are a hummus fanatic, as I am, roasted red pepper hummus is available as a separate appetizer.
Another big dish to share is the Falafel Platter. Deep-fried, golf-sized balls of ground chickpeas, parsley and spices are served on a bed of shredded lettuce with tomatoes, pickled turnips and a side of thin and silky tahini. Warm pita bread, of course, tags along for the ride.
My addiction to falafel — aka, “exotic hushpuppy” — started years back when I experienced the most amazing falafel on a food truck here in Pittsburgh. Ever since, I’ve been jamming them into my mouth whenever possible. The falafel at Shouf’s is aromatic from the variety of spices used, and they have a bit of a spicy-heat finish.
The best way to eat them is to cut each ball in half, and make a finger sandwich with the pita bread, lettuce, tomato and tahini. The pickled turnips are a nice touch to cleanse your palate from the spices before dining on another dish.
Rounding out the appetizers, grape leaves are a definite must. Seven large grape leaves are stuffed with a mixture of rice and lean ground beef, then steamed in lemon juice. They are served hot with a lemon wedge on the side.
And don’t skip the Platter of Shouf’s Fries, one of the only non-ethnic items on the menu. A large platter of french fries is topped with a hearty drizzle of balsamic dressing and melted mozzarella cheese. This dish is an oddly delicious combination you might have never considered. It has earned its place on the menu after a former employee made it for himself numerous times.
Although the appetizers are vegetarian-friendly, the entrees are for carnivores.
I recommend ordering the lamb shish kabob: cubes of tender and succulent lamb tenderloin marinated in olive oil and seasonings and served on a bed of Lebanese rice pilaf with a grilled tomato and a side of fresh hot pita bread.
Variations of this grilled meat dish are done with cuts of chicken breast and filet mignon.
Other entrees include lamb and pork shank, as well as a gyro platter, baked kibbe and moussaka, a traditional dish made with layers of vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, onions and potatoes), ground beef and a thick creamy white sauce.
Dessert is deserving of attention, too. Pieces of baklava and large slices of chocolate cake will wink and flirt from the deli case as you dine. The baklava is just the right amount of sweet, sticky, rich and buttery. Be sure to take a piece or two home. It’s perfect for breakfast the next morning, if you ask me.
The cuisine at Shouf’s not only proves that this restaurant is doing it right, but so does the constant line out of the door, filled with customers wanting to dine in or pick up one of the many takeout orders that fill up the bar. This place gets jam-packed on the weekends, so be sure to make a reservation.
Belly-dancing nights will be back starting around June. I’ll definitely see you there.
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