Considering that Ahmed's Steak House on Alexis Road opened in 1967, I have no excuse for never eating there until recently.
In other words, it took me nearly 40 years to discover what I was missing: excellent steaks that owe a good portion of their flavor and mystique to secret seasonings; Old World service in a small but pleasant setting; a menu that spans two cuisines, American and Lebanese.
The kitchen turns out the kind of middling comfort food found at numerous other local eateries. Surveying the menu, patrons will find familiar homegrown dishes featuring chicken, beef, and seafood, along with dinner salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, and the like. They can also sample Lebanese fare that holds up well against other restaurants that offer a taste of the Mideast: stuffed grape leaves, hummus and vegetables, a Mediterranean plate, and marinated chicken and beef kabobs.
It's the steaks, however, on which the reputation of Ahmed's rests. A half-dozen flame-broiled cuts are rubbed with 12 herbs and spices and "butterbrushed" if desired. The price for a steak dinner is also right: $12.99 to $19.99 including soup, salad, and a side.
The Ahmed family owns Ahmed's Family Caf as well, located further east on Alexis. It is considerably larger but offers virtually the same menu choices.
The decor of the small steak house is modest, with puffy drapes and sparkly lights entwined with grapevines framing the windows. The servers zip about the tight quarters, artfully avoiding collisions in the commotion of a busy night. Most admirably during our visits, they took assiduous care to let us finish each course before delivering the next.
A cup of beef vegetable soup ($1.95) included chunks of meat and vegetables in a deeply beef-flavored broth. We followed this with an appetizer of five plump but otherwise unremarkable grape leaves ($5.99). Dinner-sized chicken salad ($5.99) was especially good, combining luscious charbroiled, marinated white meat with vegetables and fried pita chips among the greens.
A chicken pita ($6.95) was notable not only for its heftiness but also for the bountiful ingredients: sliced lemon-garlic meat mixed with goopy mozzarella cheese, onions, and mushrooms. A combo of tender chicken and beef kabobs ($13.99) surprised us with a third skewer of fresh roasted vegetables served with rice pilaf.
Among the entrees, we opted for a butterbrushed charbroiled swordfish steak, ($13.99), which was somewhat bland; perhaps the alternative Cajun preparation would have added more zing.
But there was no complaining about the steak - a 14-ounce "Shore & Steele" strip ($16.99) named after the longtime WKKO radio DJs who must be Ahmed's regulars. The meat, steeped in flavor from all those herbs and spices, was tender and juicy, and tasted even better when dipped into a cup of drawn butter on the side.
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