Al-Ameer is certainly not the new kid on the block, but it got a shot of fame recently when the James Beard Foundation recognized it as one of America’s classics.
It’s been around since 1984, when Khalil Ammar and his brother-in-law Zaki Hashem established the first one in a Dearborn storefront, moving a few years later to the present location in a sturdy free-standing building on Warren at Wyoming. They are still in the kitchen leading the staff in the preparation of the Lebanese fare of their heritage with skill and dedication.
The food at Al-Ameer is what puts it on the map. In a town with many good Lebanese restaurants, its fresh, well-prepared soups, salads and lamb and chicken dishes stand out. From-scratch cooking is the premise. If there are also-rans on the big, all-day menu, I haven’t found them.
The menu is for the most part traditional rustic northern Lebanese and the rest is what Abbas Ammar, the restaurant’s general manager and Khalil Ammar’s son, calls “in-house flair.” Such dishes as boneless chicken with garlic and lemon sauce, chicken shawarma, and roasted whole lamb, deboned and served over rice, illustrate what he means. All of the meat is halal (permissible according to Arabic law), and is purchased directly from the cattle distributor and delivered to the Al-Ameer meat market just a few feet west of the restaurant itself.
From the appetizers of hummus and tabouli to the main plates of shish kafta, kabob and tawook, the kitchen excels. Notable dishes include hummus Beirut, a spicy house version of the mashed chickpea dish that outshines the traditional hummus with its accents of finely chopped tomato, parsley and jalapenos. The almost delicate lentil soup makes a star out of the usually humble dish.
Family style is the way much of the fare is served, and it is definitely the way to go. Lone diners can only watch in envy at the big tables being served Al-Ameer “platters” that include 10 dishes. The platters are served in quantities for two to three, four to six, and six to 10 diners, and include a cross-section of the menu, from the eggplant spread baba ghanoush and the freshly made hummus to chicken or lamb on wooden skewers and beef or lamb shish kabob. And rest assured that there are always plenty of leftovers to go.
Every dish is made to order, Khalil Ammar says.
When he first arrived from Lebanon in the ’80s, the fare was not as well known or easily obtainable as now. At first, Ammar says, people had to be coaxed into trying such items as fried kibbee and the hot sausage called sujuk. Now, Lebanese cuisine has become a favorite throughout the metro area. And now that there is competition, it seems to have just made Al-Ameer stronger.
Although it does not have a bar, the restaurant offers a long list of raw fresh fruit and vegetable juices, including its specialty, a concoction made with strawberries, apple, banana, cantaloupe in mango juice, topped with raisins, pistachios, honey and ashta (clotted cream).
While Al-Ameer certainly isn’t fancy, the quality of the food and the friendly and knowledgeable service outweigh the no-frills setting.
Al-Ameer has two spin-off locations at 27346 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights and 2100 N. Haggerty in Canton.
12710 W. Warren at Wyoming, Dearborn
Call: (313) 582-8185
Hours: 10 a.m.- 11 p.m. daily
Prices: Soups and appetizers $3-$12.95, appetizer sampler platters $7.95-$52.95, the latter for four, sandwiches $3.99-$5.50, salads $4.95-$15.95, completely garnished entrees $9.95-$21.95, entree platters $22.95-$95.95, the latter for four to six, raw juices $4.99-$6.99.
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers