With its excellent kitchen and pair of dining rooms insulated from the relentless roar of Reynolds Road traffic, Byblos restaurant has won a large cohort of loyal customers.
But until now, one could only guess how many more diners it would draw were it not for the 19 narrow, decidedly steep stairs that had to be negotiated.
Soon the guessing can end, for Byblos is getting an impressive new entry that includes an elevator. April 1 was the target date, though like most target dates it has been deferred. In any event, the installation is under way, and we anticipate that reservations will soon be in order when you hunger for a Mediterranean-style lunch or dinner fresh out of the Byblos kitchen.
Those unfamiliar with this South End landmark may assume that shared advertising and ethnic character suggest a virtual identity between Byblos and the immensely popular Beirut, on Monroe Street not far from Toledo Hospital. However, except for a few specialties - brachioli, a superbly flavored Italian mating of beef and ham, for example - the linkage simply reflects two brothers and their families, not a cloning of restaurants.
Both kitchens are Lebanese, so it's not surprising to find a hearty ara-yes halabi, a pita bread pocket sandwich stuffed with good things, as an appetizer or an entree. Of course hummus and velvet-smooth home-made yogurt are mainstays <$eb>of the Byblos as well as the Beirut dinner experience.
On the whole, however, the Byblos menu seems to give more prominence to alternative entrees more familiar to first-time samplers of Mediterranean cuisine. For one thing, a shish kabab, with marinated bites of beef and vegetables cooked on a spit over an open fire or grill, is almost a naturalized American favorite, though the Mideast chef still has some piquant seasoning up his sleeve. But a little way down the list of entrees, below the roast shank of lamb, is a butterflied filet mignon, served if the guest wishes with french fries instead of rice. How Midwest American can you get?
Still, Byblos shares with many other ethnic restaurants the presentation of generous servings at modest prices.
Several pasta dishes are included among Italian specialties, from vegetarian spaghetti to shrimp or lobster linguine. So, too, are pizzas, small or large, with several popular toppings to add to the basic tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.
One noon I had a luncheon-sized dish of 10 fair-sized sauteed shrimp - with tail shells removed - served with mushrooms on a bed of rice pilaf.
It's well worth your while to give some thoughtful attention to the day's specials. Not long ago I chose chicken cordon bleu, served under a white sauce that I suspect was cream tahini, that delicious, ubiquitous dressing, with perhaps a bit of white wine to spice it up. A generous handful of mushrooms, most likely baked with the chicken, was a delightful unexpected touch, over and above the french fries, cold green beans, and coarse-sliced salad vegetables. Another special that lost out to the chicken was stuffed cabbage.
Rice pudding seems to me to sell out early, but other desserts are available, including not only very western ice cream pie, but, naturally, baklava and bird nests.
Parking, on the west side of South Reynolds Road is tight but usually adequate. As for the elevator, it would be a good idea to call ahead to see when it will be in service.