BY BECKY GRUNEWALD / PHOTOGRAPHY BY RACHEL VALLEY
There isn't much of a "back of the house" at Maalouf's Taste of Lebanon because owner Adbul Maalouf is always manning the grill behind the counter, clad in his customary bright orange Maalouf's T-shirt and his rapper-worthy gold chain with a cedar – the symbol of Lebanon – on it. He is a bear of a guy with a soft voice, and he invariably admonishes me that it's been too long since he's seen me (even if it hasn't been that long).
Once I'm there I do wonder why I sometimes let more than a month go between visits, especially since I have a hard time choosing what I want to order every time. Will it be the very garlicky chicken shawarma? Or the pine nut-studded, pickle-stuffed kibbee sandwich? Or if I want to go vegetarian there's the juicy eggplant sandwich with onions, tomatoes and feta.
Even though the sandwiches and platters are enough for two meals, you must save room for the appetizers: thick, mild labneh (a yogurt-like dip), oily silky-smooth houmos and the best foul muddamas (fava bean dip) I've ever encountered. I like to just eat the foul with a spoon as if it were soup. Tabouli may seem like a simple salad, but it can often be too watery or too onion-y – at Maalouf's it is dominated with the strong, green flavor of parsley.
Watching Maalouf sweating over the grill and his wife and daughter hustling to wait on tables proves how much hard work goes into owning a restaurant, and it reminds me that I need to eat there more. Sometimes it's good when the back of the house is in the front.