Make us your home page

Review: Beirut Café brings fresh tastes of Lebanon to St. Petersburg

The city of Beirut conjures for many of us headlines about Hezbollah paramilitary forces clashing with Israeli military. Perhaps this partly explains why four years ago, Hana Lakkis and Fisal Houssein were encouraged to think more creatively about the name of their new restaurant. But the couple stuck with Beirut Café and have together built a loyal following for their traditional Lebanese fare.

I'm going to say up front that I'm a sucker for this food (my first kitchen job was making falafel and baba ghanouj under the stern eye of two taciturn Lebanese brothers). It's lively with sumac and zaatar, lush with whole-milk yogurt and tahini, and ends on a sinful note of filigreed phyllo leaves glistening with honey and rosewater.

Lakkis and Houssein met while in school in Beirut. Lakkis' parents ran the Middle East Bakery near Allentown, Pa., for years, so she comes by her pastry prowess honestly. She is responsible for Beirut Café's spinach pies, for the maamoul shortbread of semolina with dates or pistachio, the namourra with the texture of corn bread drizzled with rosewater, and (the showstopper) cheesecake baklava.

This spring has seen some joy and some hardship for the owners. In May, one of the couple's sons got married and, on the same day, another went into the hospital. The result was that the restaurant spent a few weeks shuttered, but the tiny, 34-seat cafe is back in full swing.

Take a gander at the dessert case before finding your table. Lakkis will whisk by to take drink orders or open your beer or wine for you (it's BYO) and bring glassware. By her own admission, service can be sluggish, but she's confident the food is worth a wait.

I agree. The maza (appetizer) sampler is a fine way to start ($14 for 2 people, $26 for 4), with five items arrayed attractively. The falafel are some of the best in Pinellas County, crisp and greaseless with the earthy flavor of chickpea and fava bean, best dunked in piquant tahini sauce. Join these with tightly rolled, minty grape leaves (sometimes with rice, sometimes with wheat berries), maybe with a scoop of thick, garlicky labneh (yogurt sauce), hummus dotted with sauteed ground meat and toasted pine nuts and refreshing yogurty cuke salad.

A maza isn't strictly necessary if you opt for one of the plated entrees ($8.99 to $12), which come with a scoop of tabbouleh and either hummus or baba ghanouj (I was more wowed by the eggplant/tahini puree than the chickpea, but that could just reflect my deep eggplant infatuation). Waggle a hunk of pita through the baba, then scoop up a cube of grilled beef kabob, then follow up the bite with a forkful of parsley-intensive bulgur tabbouleh and you have the essence of Lebanese cuisine. It's fresh and dynamic, juxtaposing fresh herbs and lemon with the savory, musky undertones of grilled beef or lamb.

The dining room itself isn't much to look at. Very home-spun and comfy, its fanciest accoutrements may be the pastries in the dessert case. Peek in at the shredded-wheat-and-pistachio burma or the long, cigar-like znoud el sit dusted with pistachio crumbles and powdered sugar. For $2 or $3, they are sweet reminders of all the things that come out of Lebanon beyond the headlines.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


Beirut Café

5281 Park St. N, St. Petersburg

(727) 541-4488;

Cuisine: Lebanese

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday

Details: V, MC, Disc.; no reservations; no alcohol (but you can bring your own)

Prices: Appetizers $2.75-$7; entrees $5-$12

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★½

Review: Beirut Café brings fresh tastes of Lebanon to St. Petersburg 06/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2014 4:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bar review: The Landing at Jannus in St. Petersburg

    Bars & Spirits

    I've spent many evenings in St. Pete's Jannus Live courtyard, enjoying one of the best open-air venues in the Tampa Bay area. It's where I saw my first concert in Florida: Toadies, on the Rubberneck tour sometime in the mid '90s.

    The drinks at the Landing at Jannus in St. Petersburg are about as cheap as you’ll find at any other regular downtown bar, a nice surprise.
  2. Local craft beer of the week: Two Henrys Belleview-Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat

    Bars & Spirits

    Two Henrys Brewing Company is a unique entity in the Tampa Bay brewing scene, due to both its status as the only brewery in Plant City, as well as its location on a 27-acre working farm, which also includes a winery.

    Photo by Justin Grant
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 26


    Train: One of the most engaging frontmen in rock, Pat Monahan, brings along O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield for their annual trip through Tampa. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $21.50-$191. (813) 740-2446.

    LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 12:  Singer Pat Monahan of Train performs as the band kicks off the Play That Song Tour in support of the album "A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat" at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 12, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) 700034174
  4. Interview: Todd Rundgren comes to St. Petersburg looking to reach a new generation

    Music & Concerts

    They're teaching Todd Rundgren in college now.

    Todd Rundgren will perform at the Mahaffey Theater on May 27. Credit: Lynn Goldsmith
  5. Volcano Bay, with waterproof wristbands that eliminate lines, now open at Universal Orlando


    ORLANDO — Universal Orlando opened its third park on Thursday, this one a resort-style water attraction called Volcano Bay that features a waterproof wristband that promises to eliminates lines.

    Universal Orlando opened its third park, on May 25, 2017, this one a resort-style water attraction called Volcano Bay that features the first waterproof wristband that promises to eliminates lines. [Willie J. Allen Jr. | for Universal Studios]