One of the Central West End's best locations for al fresco dining again has sprouted tables – and diners. The height of the terrace in front of the Central Cafe and Bakery gives a wider vista and a comfortable amount of distance from the passing parade, which provide the neighborhood's brightest charm. And this part of the Euclid strip is certainly ready for Middle Eastern food, highlighted by the fact that it serves breakfast. That terrace on a sunny morning, as some of us recall from years ago, is a fine place indeed.
The atmosphere is often family-oriented; we've seen several groups with babes in strollers or high chairs accompanying several generations of elders, and a lad who seemed to be part of the owner's family happily playing computer games until the table was needed for guests. A dog slept comfortably under another.
Whille the menu describes the food as having the flavors of Lebanon, Central's seems more assertively seasoned than we usually find around town. For us, that's a good thing. Like a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants, many items serve as either first or main courses, often a pleasurable situstion in which which a diner can avoid having to make a Hobson's choice.
That said, however, while lebneh is only in the appetizer column, we'd order it no matter where it was. The thick, rich yogurt with a little olive oil and some za'tar (a mixture of sumac, sesame and thyme) sprinkled on top arrives with a basket of warm pita. The result is a dish to soothe a pasha. Babaganoush (pictured here), or roasted eggplant pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, is velvet-smooth, its flavor heightened by a good dollop of tahini, and also accompanied by pita. Mana-ish, found on the breakfast menu but available any time, is a flatbread; we opted for the spicy cheese which displayed a reasonable kick. Plain cheese or cheese with parsley are other options
Tabouli is notable for its abundance of parsley over the bulgur grain, with lemon and mint sparkling in the dressing. The same flavors also brighten the fatoush, a lettuce-tomato-toasted pita salad topped with tasty grilled beef or chicken. Fat patties of falafel, greaseless and crunchy, were graceful and tasty, showing evidence of a happy amount of cumin to emphasize just a little pepper. Kafta kebabs of ground beef stayed moist, their juices reminding us of the garlic and onion inside.
It could be argued that the sandwiches are not as generously filled with meat as Americans have come to expect. Beef Shwarma, thin slices of marinated meat, is tasty, with tomatoes, onions, parsley, two kinds of pickles and tahini joining the grilled beef on the soft-crusted French loaf put in a panini press to crisp it up. Saujok, described as “homemade spicy Lebanese sausage,” but looking more like a pate, was smeared inside its loaf and then dressed the same way, the serving so scant that it was difficult to assess the sausge itself. Several dishes are available as sandwiches or entrees, with the latter adding several sides.
The don't-miss dish is the grilled chicken. The half-bird arrived as two quarters, not large, certainly, but extremely tasty, rubbed with a mysterious and unidentifiable, but intriguing spice mixture, its skin crisp and its meat juicy to perfection. Spicy potatoes, somewhere between roasted and fried, were winners, too, showing a little garlic along with the pepper, waiting for the eater to salt to taste.
We were a little surprised when we asked about the various filo-dough pastries to be told they all had the same filling, pistachios. Our choc-lava, melted chocolate drizzled on the top layer of baklava and allowed to harden, wasn't oversweet, and the crust was nicely crisp. American and Arabian coffee and tea, hot or iced. Amiable guys doing the serving and the owner coming by to check on things. No alcohol.
331 N. Euclid Ave.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: No