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Caf� Phoenicia offers Mediterranean ambience, menu

By Howard Arceneaux
Zachary Business

Owners John Mekari, left, and Menam Abdalla in the main Caf� Phoenicia dining room

When John Mekari and partner Menam Abdalla decided to open Caf� Phoenicia in Zachary, they wanted to establish more than a restaurant.

They sought to create a mood, one that reflected the entire Mediterranean region, a large geographic area rich in history and culture. Every aspect of the restaurant reflects that attention to detail, from the colorful scenes of ancient Phoenicia that decorate the walls to the menu offerings of authentic food recipes of the Middle East and Southern Europe.

Indeed, what they produced is an artistic reflection of the Mediterranean as unique as the dishes typical of the region. Since Caf� Phoenicia opened on Valentine�s Day in 2003 at 5647 Main Street, Suite A, diners have been treated to the classic Mediterranean mood that Mekari and Abdalla envisioned.

The restaurant, tastefully decorated with ornamental pieces and objects that Mekari has collected, is divided into three areas.

Two maps, one of ancient Lebanon from 1,000 BC and another of modern-day Italy, are painted on the wall immediately to the right of the entrance. A large bar with televisions dominates the room, which has more of a casual feel. To the left is the main dining area, subdivided into two rooms, with one featuring scenes depicting the Phoenician lifestyle. The second, smaller room has a life-size painting of a New Orleans-style courtyard, creating a slightly different mood.

So complete are the details, the menu features watermarks of a Phoenician boat and Roman arches. Music, mainly jazz, plays quietly in the background. Guests are served by a friendly, attentive wait staff.

And then there�s the menu, which offers a wide variety of Middle Eastern, Greek and Italian dishes to choose from.

Mekari�s sister, Rania, is a nutritionist and she consulted on the menu.

�We wanted to serve healthy food and people that consume Mediterranean cuisine have 30 percent less heart disease,� said Mekari.

For example, almost all the dishes use olive oil instead of vegetable oils and butter. There are little red hearts next to menu items that are particularly healthy, low in carbohydrates and calories.

The food is made daily using only fresh ingredients. Meats are carefully marinated for 24 hours to ensure the flavor.

�Absolutely!� Mekari stressed.

The servings are generous, with various seafood, lean meats and chicken, vegetables and pasta entrees. There are usually daily specials introduced by Abdalla that are not on the menu and they�re very popular.John Mekari and wife Vera are expecting their first child later this month. A popular dish is the Phoenician sampler, with a number of different examples of popular Mediterranean foods.

Many different drinks are available to choose from, including a large selection of red and white wines from various countries, as well as domestic and international beers. Also popular is the Lebanese tea.

The dessert menu features indulgent sweets, like Ashta and the �Mr. Brownie.�

Abdalla, who has more than 15 years in the restaurant business, is the general manager of the restaurant, supervising every aspect of the day-today operations. He checks nearly every dish before they�re delivered to customers to ensure the food meets his high standard.

While Abdalla manages the restaurant, Mekari has a full-time job managing an engineering company with offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Mekari and Abdalla also own two Azteca�s Restaurants, one in Baton Rouge and another in Lafayette.

Mekari was born in Lebanon and came to the United States to study engineering at LSU. His wife, Vera, is expecting their first child later this month. Abdalla is from Jordan, and he and his wife are expecting their second child around the same time as the Mekaris.

Caf� Phoenicia is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. The restaurant also features a daily happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. Call 658-9158 or visit www.CafePhoenicia.com for more information.

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