The large combo at Steve’s Backroom on the Nautical Mile in St. Clair Shores features well-prepared Mediterranean cuisine. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Whether you call it Mediterranean, Lebanese or Middle Eastern, there's no doubt that the fresh fare from this beautiful region has found an appreciativeaudience locally.
Steve's Backroom has been serving such classic regional dishes as tender kebabs of lamb, parsley- and toasted pita-dotted greens, earthy lentil soup and marinated chicken with resonant garlic dip for years, and continues to do so in a low-slung building on the Nautical Mile in St. Clair Shores.
The low-key Backroom, a successor to the original spot in Harper Woods that was indeed a back room, may not be as glamorous as its neighbors, but it offers a cozy haven,a little dining room with murals of Mediterranean scenes set into archways, and a separate cocktail lounge done up in more sophisticated fashion with dark wood and soft lights.
This all sets the scene for what is the heart and soul of the establishment, its menu of well-preparedLebanese staplesfrom the appetizers of hummus — the red pepper version is especially notable with its kick of spice —smokybaba ghanoush and stuffed grape leaves, to main dishes of shish kebab in both lamb and beef versions, and chicken and lamb shawarma. Service is by acheerful and knowledgeable staff.
In addition to these dishes are some less familiar but no less appealing options including rashta, asturdy lentil soupmade withnoodles and chick peas and a touch of spinach, artichoke hearts with a stuffing of ground lambtopped with subtle yogurt sauce, and lamb tongue with tahini (sesame seed) sauce.
Entrees are served with asimple salad that is pretty much what a house salad should be: just enough to be a sidekickto the main dish, afew fresh greens, a bit of tomatoand thinly sliced red onion in subtle lemon and oil dressing.
Most entrees, including thetender, moist cylinders of shish kafta (spiced ground lamb) and baked kibbe, balls of ground lamb anda scattering of tenderloin tips inyogurt sauce served with noodle and almond dotted rice, may beordered in halfor full portion sizes,an option more restaurants should consider.
Service is by acheerful and knowledgeable staff.
Steve Kalil and his wife, Therese, opened the firstBackroom in the rear of their Harper Woods market in themid '80s, and it was a gem, with mom-and-pop charm and well-prepared Lebanese fare.
Some of that low-key charm may still be found at this much bigger version, not at all resembling a back room, but a spacious restaurant and retail market now run bySteve's look-alike cousin, Charles Raffoul, and his wife, Bouchra.
They took over four years ago when Kalil decided to concentrate on his wholesale business.
Both are on hand every day, just like the days when it was Steve and Therese overseeing the original.
TheRaffouls recently added breakfast to the schedule, and among the basic dishes such as pancakes and omelets, they offer what may be the least expensive eggs Benedict around. The sophisticated dish (seen elsewhere at much higher prices) is a gentle $5.95.
Also new is the handsome upfront ovenproducing puffy rounds of pita bread to dip into the za'atar spicemixture that is brought to thetables at the start of a meal.
There's no doubt that restaurants with hands-on proprietorsoffer something extra. This unpretentious spot in the shadow of its flashier neighbors makes that point emphatically.