WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Babylon Cafe's menu of Lebanese food is as well turned out as anybody's, at as attractive a price. It has the full array of all the familiar Middle Eastern dishes. But what makes it stand out is its house-baked bread. It's like a fat pita, or a pizza without toppings. The round loaves come out hot, adding extra excitement to everything from a shawarma sandwich to a salad.
The platters here are oversize portions of well-made kebabs, grilled lamb, chicken or beef shawarma, and all the rest of what you go to a Middle Eastern restaurant to enjoy. The better part of a page of the menu is filled with appetizers, enough of them to make a complete meal, particularly with a table of four or more. The house-baked bread costs a little extra, but is so good that it shouldn't be missed.
Babylon Café originally opened in 1994, in the most spartan of locations on Canal Street. Despite the minimal environment, the place was a big hit. When owner Najah Alsherees moved it in 2001 to the much larger, nicer Maple Street space, he extended its offerings, kept the quality high, and offered more creature comforts.
Most of the tables are in a large, attractive dining room with one curiosity: if you pull back the curtains from the windows on the left-hand wall, you'll gaze into a busy, unassociated laundromat. So don't do that.
»Meat-stuffed grape leaves
Vegetarian grape leaves
Spinach artichoke dip
»Spinach in phyllo (spanakopita)
Feta cheese and olives
»Safeiheh (mini lamb & beef pizza)
Foul madammus (like hummus, made with fava beans)
Qudsia (foul mixed with hummus)
Yogurt salad with cucumber
Babylon super salad (with tabouleh and stuffed grape leaves)
»Chicken shawarma salad
Grilled salmon, tuna, or shrimp salad
»Combination platter of many appetizers
»Shish kafta (ground lamb and beef kebab)
Fried kibbeh plate
Chicken, lamb, beef or kafta kebab, or combination)
»Chicken shawarma (Lebanese marinated, sliced rotisserie chicken)
»Chicken tecka (grilled marinated chicken breast)
Lamb, sautéed vegetables, over a bed of hummus
»Rosemary lamb chops
Homemade stuffed grape leaves platter (meat or vegetarian)
»Turlu (sautéed 12-vegetable plate with rice, feta and mozzarella)
Sauteed shrimp, vegetables, garlic and tomato sauce
Grilled salmon or tuna
»Chicken or beef shawarma sandwich
Chicken kebab sandwich
Shish kebab sandwich
Baked eggplant sandwich with sautéed fresh vegetables, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, topped with feta cheese
»Omi ali (Mediterranean bread pudding)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Order the home-baked bread no matter what else you get. Pulling an assortment of appetizers into one big platter makes a good meal for the table. Don't forget to bring your own wine! No corkage fee charged.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They could use more desserts.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Sidewalk tables
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Among the benefits universities bestow on their home cities is that they are magnets for offbeat restaurants. Students and faculty alike tend to be more open-minded about trying new cuisines. They're also partial to the low price structures such restaurants usually sport. The stretch of Maple Street between Broadway and South Carrollton is a great example of this collegiate, international restaurant bazaar. Babylon Cafe is the Middle Eastern component on that row of fascinating ethnic eateries. The permission to bring one's own wine, beer, or other beverages adds to the appeal. Oh, yeah--the food is good, too.