Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Byblos Mediterranean Cafe

Name: Byblos Mediterranean Cafe
Address: 233 N Clinton St Syracuse, NY
Phone: 315-378-3333
Neighborhood: Downtown
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Lebanese, Mediterranean
Restaurant Hours: Tuesday to Friday 10 AM - 3 PM, 4:30 PM - 9 PM, Saturday 11:30 AM - 9 PM
Parking: On-street
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Takes Reservations: No
Take-Out: Yes
Waiter Service: Yes (for dine-in)
Outdoor Seating: Yes (weather permitting)
Delivery: Yes ($2 delivery charge, $25 minimum)

Welcome to Byblos Mediterranean Cafe, Syracuse's 1st Lebanese restaurant. A fairly new addition to Downtown's growing and diverse dining scene, Byblos is a family owned and operated business that proudly serves authentic and homemade Lebanese and Mediterranean specialties.

Since opening in the Spring of 2010, Byblos unique-to-the-region food has been a popular spot for take-out with the Downtown lunch crowd and has been featured at the Taste of Syracuse as well as 9 WSYR's program, Bridge Street.

The restaurant sits along North Clinton Street next to Darwin and across the street from the Post Standard building. The owners have done a wonderful job in refurbishing the building (before and after pics) and it's spruced up the stretch of buildings and quaintness of the street quite a bit.

What's inside? A clean and tiny little cafe where you can find a large variety of homemade and authentic delicacies like baba ghanuj, hummus, falafel, spanakopita, kibbeh, kabobs, and fattoush, as well as Turkish coffee, herbal teas, and yogurt drinks. There's also some lesser traditional but just as delectable offerings on the menu like Mediterranean-style pizzas, soups, salads, and pita wraps.

Beyond that, they do made-to-order food here too (kibbeh nayyeh, for example), so if you are familiar with Lebanese cuisine and don't see it on the menu, Byblos may still have what you're looking for.

Mind you, it's tiny inside. Maybe 3 small tables consisting of about 8 seats total, so it's best to call if you have a large or even medium sized group. If you're one of a few people there, as I was on this occasion, it's fairly cozy and homey, but I could imagine it being a different story if the room was busy or even half full. Take-out is a little more common, but dine-in is also an option (there's table service if you go that route). Bottom line: plan ahead if you go during typical dinning hours. If the weather is warm (which if this past "Winter" was any indication, should be quite often), a few tables are available outside along the street too.

The order...

Gyro entree w/ grape leaves, tabbouleh, and baklava: $16.99
Total Money Spent with Tax & Tip: $20

Their dining week menu roped me in.

Clockwise from the bottom: Kronos gyro meat served over rice pilaf with a side of tzatziki sauce, grape leaves, tabbouleh, baklava, and pita triangles.

Not necessarily a traditional gyro (which is on the menu - I've had that here before and it was awesome), the gyro entree is more of a build-your-own style gyro. I loved it. Especially the customization. Layering thin strips of juicy meat with extra-soft rice on top of pita pieces and topping it all off with creamy tzatziki sauce was an excellent and even fun entree. Hidden in the picture, but not to go unnoticed was their rice pilaf which was outstanding: buttery, fluffy, and contained tiny bits of peach colored vermicelli noodles. Delicious even on its own.

Homemade grape leaves were a new try for me. I opted for the "meatless" over the ground lamb. It had a nice flavor and spiciness with rice and chopped herbs snugly rolled inside warm, steamed grape leaves. For anyone who's been following this blog, you know that I can be overly picky sometimes. That being said, I suppose I couldn't get around the texture of these. A little too wet and leafy for me. Good flavor, but I don't know if they're my thing. Several reviewers online have raved about them, so take my first impression with a tiny grain of salt.

Their tabbouleh was outstanding and really brightened up the meal - both visually and flavor-wise. It's a minced salad of sorts containing parsley, cracked wheat, tomatoes, onions, and mint in an extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice dressing. I thought it may have been a tad overly lemony for my liking, but none the less, it was incredibly fresh, very delicious, and a great side salad for the meal.

Lastly, if that wasn't enough, the baklava stole the show. Easily one of the best desserts I've had in a while. Flaky layers of phyllo dough stuffed with crunchy walnuts and drizzled with a sweet honey-based syrup. It was phenomenal. Dare I say, despite everything else in the order being very good, I could just go back for their baklava over and over again and be totally happy.

Additional notes...

- Free Wi-Fi

- Their current special, Shawarma, a Levantine Arab mean preparation, is available in wraps and as an entree. More info here.

- The restaurant gets a lot of ingredients from Samir's Imported Foods on E Genesee St as well as from family gardens during the summer.

- For catering details, click here.

- I did spy a hookah, but if you're curious about it, you may want to inquire within.

For a tiny sliver of Downtown that contains Darwin, Lao Village, Dinosaur, and Byblos, you get an outstanding range of cuisines with great food all within a few feet from one another. It's definitely an area that Syracusans should be proud of and Byblos only enriches that.

Everything tasted fresh, homemade, and most importantly: healthy. Your taste buds will notice it within the first bite. There's plenty of the menu to enjoy if you new or are experienced with Lebanese cuisine. And if you're a vegetarian, I'd rank it fairly high as one of the better vegetarian-friendly places in Syracuse.

Again, it may be a small place, but who's going to worry when you have such fresh, authentic, and delicious food in front of you.

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