Monday, January 30, 2012

Now Open: Shahrazad Cafe & Market

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 5:14 PM

You can easily make a meal out of the Shahrazad Cafe appetizer plate.
  • You can easily make a meal out of the Shahrazad Cafe appetizer plate.

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Rashid Khalaf opened his Middle Eastern market — with its shelves laden with a fragrant array of herbs, spices, coffees and teas, imported candies and sweets, flavored tobaccos and elaborate hookahs — last spring. The adjoining cafe wasn't officially ready until last October. But Rashid is now officially back in the restaurant business: the chef who formerly managed the popular Olive Cafe on Kansas City's east side and, long before that, the Athena on Broadway restaurant at 3535 Broadway (where I first worked with him, over 26 years ago) now is the boss of his own kitchen, serving up a lot of the dishes he originally served at the Athena: marinated lamb chops, grilled kabobs and chicken, and a sumptuous selection of Middle Eastern appetizers.

Before opening the Shahrazad Cafe & Market, says Khalaf, he made some fact-finding trips to Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago to see what restaurateurs in other cities were doing. He fell in love with the shiny metal trays for appetizer combos that he found in Detroit. So much so that he brought enough of them back to serve in his own dining room. The Shahrazade appetizer combo — $9.99 for two people, $18.99 for four — can be made with his most popular new creation, fried cilantro potatoes as well as creamy hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed dolmas, falafel patties, pink pickled turnips, and tahini sauce.

Last week Khalaf introduced something completely different: a weekend breakfast deal offered each Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon. "It's all you can eat falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, fava beans, pickles and pita bread and hot tea for $4.99," says Khalaf. He wasn't sure that his American-born customers would find the selection as enticing as his patrons from Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon — but on the first Saturday, the dining room was packed.

I mean, I'm not sure that it's my kind of breakfast (I might need a sweet roll or something), but Khalaf is thinking of all kinds of promotional ideas to lure customers into his cafe. "The weekends are always busy," he says. "But I need to encourage customers to come in on the week nights!"

Rashid Khalaf, soccer player and grill master.
  • Rashid Khalaf, soccer player and grill master.
This location — he's right next to the Chosun Korean Barbecue restaurant — is a little off the beaten track, even for Middle Eastern cuisine and in the last three months, he's learned that his particular customers don't want seafood: he's already dropped the grilled salmon and the seafood salad platter from the menu. "The big sellers are the kabobs — beef, lamb, chicken, and kifta," says Khalaf, "and the lamb chops and the sandwiches."

In keeping with his Muslim faith, Khalaf does not serve alcohol and has no plans to do so. Customers can order hot tea (including mint or sage), fruit juices, American or Turkish coffee, soft drinks or jallab, a beverage made with dates and rosewater. Shahrazad Cafe isn't a fancy place (the lighting couldn't be less flattering to anyone over the age of ten), but the food scores: the cumin-scented lentil soup is fantastic, the salads are fresh, the fresh, soft pita is from Kansas City's Olive Cafe & Bakery, and the lamb chops are marinated in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.

The restaurant is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

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