Appetizers, or “mezze,”from Bayroot include falafel, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pies, mouhammara, baba ghanouj and hummus. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
The sleepy little shopping center called Shrewsbury Village in the borough of Shrewsbury has seen a great deal of turnover lately. Rosina’s Ristorante, once an anchor there, is gone, as are the Cypress Café and the short-lived Doco Donuts.
“Looking for the right place at the right price,” Shrewsbury resident Maher Dougan says that he and his wife, Lara, took a leap of faith and decided to open Bayroot Lebanese Restaurant there a few months back.
A Lebanese fattoush salad and a refreshing Bayroot lemonade with mint, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
A clever play on words, Bayroot does indeed have its culinary roots in Beirut, Lebanon, where Dougan, a citizen in the United States since 1993, is from.
“I love food,” he says, “and for the past two years, lots of Mediterranean restaurants, mostly Greek, have opened around here. I was disappointed.” He says his 50th birthday was a turning point, and he decided to open his own place featuring the spices and flavors he’s familiar with.
In a word, the food here is fresh. Mint leaves and sumac, a spice with a slightly sour flavor profile, are used in abundance. The menu features vegan and vegetarian options, as well as the expected kebabs and shawarma dishes.
Available all day, an extensive traditional Lebanese-style menu includes many mezze, or small-plate, options, including familiar Mediterranean dishes such as spinach pies ($5.95).
Lemon- and garlic-enhanced spinach also provides a fresh filling for triangular fatayars, Arabic for savory dough pies. The expected phyllo and feta were absent, and in this case, were not missed.
Baba ghanouj, a silky-smooth-garlicky eggplant dip served with pita bread, is a must-try, as is the pleasantly citric hummus dip (both $5.95).
A lunch combo special ($11.95) served until 3 p.m. offers half-chicken, shish kebab, falafel or shawarma. All come with rice and salad, and a choice of hummus or baba ghanouj and a large soda.
Muhammara, a new-to-PieHole appetizer, combines an unusual palette of flavors that include sweet red peppers, ground walnuts and bread crumbs enhanced by the addition of red pepper flakes, garlic, cumin, lemon and a lovely drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
An order of five plump, fried chickpea fritters, or falafel ($5.95), came to our table with a tahini dipping sauce and complimentary house-made pickled turnips, along with a basket of warm pita bread. We’re told that the pickled vegetables and pita bread are served with appetizers and dinners. The falafel — crunchy morsels of spiced chickpeas — were tender, nongreasy and tasty.
Hand-made and rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice are more delicate than the canned variety found at salad bars and in many restaurants.
Salads, traditional and not, pack the menu. Greek, arugula, and a “Bayroot” salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and mint come with the option of adding chicken or kebab to round out the meal. Give the fattoush salad a chance. Lettuce and fresh mint leaves, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, sumac, lemon, and olive oil along with other spices are tossed together and crowned with crispy fried pita croutons. The mixture is an ode to summery gardens everywhere.
Another not-to-be-missed item on the menu is the mint-infused lemonade. Served icy-cold and frothy like a smoothie, it provided the perfect antidote to a steamy hot July afternoon.
Everything at Bayroot is fresh and made in-house, and therefore will take a little longer to hit your table. Ordering in advance for a quick lunch pick-up or delivery is advised.
Bayroot is open from 11 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday. In addition to take-out and free delivery within five miles, the restaurant has a mini-market filled with specialty items.