Pierce Street seems to be almost one continuous pink hibiscus-bedecked sidewalk café as it stretches from Merrill Street to Maple in downtown Birmingham. The small restaurants along the block, from Streetside Seafood to Toast, throw open their garage door facades in June and become part of a festive street scene.
Elie’s Mediterranean Grill at No. 263 is the granddaddy of them all, having been on the street for more than two decades, first as a fresh juice bar and then a bistro with the arrival of a liquor license in 2008. It’s aged well.
The small room beyond the open façade is intimate and cozy, with just six seats at the small bar, and tables and booths tucked under evocative photomurals of old Beirut, the home town of proprietor Elie Mondulak, who entrusted the kitchen to executive chef Khalil Bazzi 21 years ago, with sous-chef Fadwa Aoude joining him 13 years ago. They have a firm hand with the Lebanese menu, which, of course, begins with the maza (appetizer) list, so much a part of Mideastern dining. The trio of the chickpea puree hummus, the smoked eggplant spread baba ganouge and fresh green parsley salad taboulee that are now familiar to local palates certainly weren’t when Elie’s came on the scene.
These dishes may have become cliches elsewhere, but here are as carefully prepared as the more elaborate lamb and chicken dishes. Taboulee is particularly fresh and appealing with its bits of tomato in the ruffles of lemon-sparked parsley. The appetizer list goes well beyond these stalwarts with feta-stuffed portobello mushrooms with roasted pepper sauce, spinach and feta pie and fried kibbee (ground lamb, cracked wheat and pine nuts). There’s also one dish I can’t recall seeing anywhere else — sauteed dandelion greens.
While the emphasis is still on the Lebanese dishes, the menu has expanded to include several fish and seafood dishes typified by sauteed lake perch and baked salmon — and good old middle-American chicken pot pie should anyone want to depart from the popular chicken shawarma. The Monday evening special is also a surprise — baby back ribs with housemade barbecue sauce, a perennial favorite.
At lunchtime there are a number of very affordable roll-up sandwiches, all of which stick to the Lebanese style, pita bread filled with shish kabob, shish kafta, spicy ground lamb, grape leaves or char-grilled chicken (tawook).
Plates aren’t fussy, but they are attractively served, some with sprigs of fresh rosemary-like little flags atop such dishes as eggplant rolled around tomato, mushrooms, onions and fresh mozzarella and lima bean stew. Vegetarians are well taken care of.
One of the things I especially like about Elie’s is the refreshing attitude, really a lack of attitude. This is not a place striving to be trendy or au courant. It doesn’t even have a happy hour.
This is a place that is comfortable in its own skin.
263 Pierce, Birmingham
Call: (248) 647-2420
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Closed Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $8-$12, salads $8-$11, lunch sandwiches $4-$12, entrees $9-$16, dinner entrees $14-$38 (the latter for lamb chops) including soup or salad, desserts $6-$9.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Low
Parking: Nearby deck or street