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Off the Menu: Mediterranean food a big hit in Zachary

Advocate Food writer

ZACHARY -- The owners of Cafe Phoenicia attribute the restaurant's bustling business to the quality of the food, the atmosphere and its reasonable prices. "Business has been excellent. It has exceeded our expectations," Johnny Makeri, one of the owners, said. "People have complimented us on both the food and the decor, and the size of the servings. Most of the customers take boxes home with them."

Opened Feb. 14, the restaurant specializes in Mediterranean-style dishes, which Makeri describes as Lebanese, Italian and Greek food, with an emphasis on Lebanese. It is located in the Zachary Shopping Center at 5647 Main St. in Zachary, one block from the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, the hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

The restaurant's primary owners are Makeri and Menam Abdalla, who is managing partner. Mo Douglas heads the kitchen staff of four.

Makeri, a native of Lebanon, explained that the name Phoenicia comes from the ancient civilization whose people lived in the area that is now Lebanon and Syria, along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Among the pieces of artwork in the restaurant are a large map of ancient Phoenicia and murals depicting scenes of the area.

Since its opening, Makeri said, the restaurant's most popular offerings have been the Sampler, a meal that presents a variety of the restaurant's Lebanese dishes, and the Chicken Shawarma. The Sampler features such items as Chicken Shawarma, gyros, beef kebabs, kibbi, stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rolls, hummus and rice pilaf. It comes with a feta cheese salad and pita bread. At lunch the Sampler is $7.99, and at night it's $12.99. The Chicken Shawarma is made of strips cut from marinated chicken breasts that have been slowly grilled on a rotating skewer over open flames. It comes with rice pilaf and hummus, pita bread and feta cheese salad. Chicken Shawarma is $8.50 for dinner and $6.50 for lunch.

The most popular appetizer is a white cheese called Halloumi made from sheep's milk. The cheese is cut in large strips and grilled in a skillet with olive oil, finely chopped garlic and dried mint. It's served with tomato slices and black olives. The appetizer sells for $5.50.

Other items listed on the menu include Lentil Soup, $2.50 for a cup, $3.50 for a bowl; Veggie Phoenicia, $8.50; Shish Kebab, $8.99 Chicken or Gyros Pasta $8.99; Meat Mousaka, $8.99; Lamb Shank, $11.99; Rib-eye Steak, $14.99; Shrimp Scampi Platter, $12.99; and Shrimp or Fish Pasta, $9.99. The six desserts include Baklava, $1.75; and cheesecake, $2.75.

Makeri said this is his first venture in the restaurant business, although Abdalla, his principal partner in Cafe Phoenicia, is a professional restaurateur. Abdalla is part owner of Arzi's at 5219 Government St., and he owns an Arzi's in Lafayette. He also owns Aztecas, a Mexican restaurant, in Lafayette.

Makeri, a native of Lebanon, explained that he has been interested in the food business since he arrived in the United States as a teenager. A 1987 graduate of LSU, he is an electrical engineer with Jacobs Engineering at the ExxonMobil Chemical Plant.

He said he enjoyed meeting customers when he was a waiter at a Baton Rouge restaurant during his college years, and he has maintained friendships with many of the people he served at that time.

Although his profession keeps him busy during the week, he enjoys meeting and greeting customers at the cafe on the weekends.

The telephone is 225-658-9158.

Cafe Phoenicia provided its recipe for Meat Mousaka.

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