There was no fanfare on Aug. 1 when Sameer Eid’s Phoenicia Restaurant reached a pretty impressive milestone — its 45th anniversary. It was business as usual at the Birmingham spot that offers the cuisine of Lebanon, and much more, in a sophisticated setting of white linen, white marble and French doors.
Since moving from his original tiny location in Highland Park, Eid has steadily upgraded the classic Mideastern fare and expanded it with dishes that were surprising at first, and now are among the most popular on the menu. “Can you believe it?” he asks, “Our No. 1 seller is ribs!”
That, and the fact that bone-in ribeye (at the top of the price scale) also gets its share of raves from the diners, as do baked whitefish and grilled salmon, doesn’t detract from the meticulously prepared traditional dishes that start with the mezza assortment. Such appetizers as hummus, baba ghanouge and tabouleh were relatively unknown in 1971 when Eid hung out his shingle. Now they are nearly as familiar as pizza and hamburgers, as more and more Mideastern restaurants have sprung up across the metro area, and they are as carefully prepared here as the more substantial dishes.
Phoenicia is a different kind of place than the casual neighborhood spots that most of us think of when we think Mideastern fare. It has a kind of sophistication that typifies restaurants with ambition, and that is apparent the moment you walk into the understated room designed by Victor Saroki. The well-stocked bar and extensive wine list also add an element.
Soups are a specialty, and like everything else, are attractively served. The most interesting of the three varieties is squash/yogurt with an intriguing hint of bitterness that adds to its appeal. Salads range from simple cucumber and yogurt with a touch of mint and garlic to the traditional Lebanese salad of tomato, cucumber and onion flavored with sumac in a subtle lemon dressing. Shish kafta (ground lamb formed into a cylinder) is another traditional dish that is spicy and delicious and more interesting than shish kabob.
Back to those ribs. They are dry-rubbed baby backs, added to the menu a few years ago after a patron noticed Eid having them for lunch and asked for them. They are meticulously trimmed and completely non-greasy and may be had in half or full slabs. Another of the unexpected dishes is cilantro shrimp with garlic and lemon, served in a smaller portion at lunch and at dinner a more substantial amount.
Underscoring the well-prepared fare is correct service by a professional waitstaff.
Even after 45 years, the proprietor is still enthusiastically involved with all the elements of the restaurant even down to inspecting the quality of the linens as they arrive. No wrinkled tablecloths (or bruised eggplant) for this restaurant professional who is still at the top of his game.
588 S. Woodward, Birmingham
Call: (248) 644-3122
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-11 p.m. Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $10-$19, lunch sandwiches $10-$12, soups and salads $6-$15, entrees $14-$24, vegetarian entrees $14-$19; dinner entrees $21-$44. desserts $4.95-$7.95.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and an extensive wine list.
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★1/2— very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding