Before there were Mediterranean restaurants in Fort Worth with outside bars and Twitter accounts, there was Hedary's Mediterranean Restaurant, a quaint and quiet Lebanese spot in a nondescript strip mall near Camp Bowie Boulevard. This year, the long-running restaurant, opened by Antoine Hedary and his wife, Leila, celebrates its 35th anniversary. Obviously, they've been doing something right.
The couple have nine children, and most of those who are not helping at this location are spread across a small empire of restaurants: Byblos Lebanese Restaurant on the north side, Celaborelle Phoenician Buffet on the south side, a Hedary's in Las Vegas and a soon-to-open Hedary's in Allen.
Leila Hedary recently returned as the primary cook at the Fort Worth location, and the restaurant itself underwent a makeover when it gave up an adjoining space. The decreased size has upped its coziness factor. Twenty tables with white tablecloths and fresh flowers sit side-by-side, giving the room a bistro feel. Patrons can watch the cooks in action, thanks to an open kitchen, or they can lust over the freshly made baklava ($5.50) displayed in a glass bakery case. A small bar area features several wines from Lebanon, along with bottles from Israel, Argentina, Portugal and Chile.
Longtime followers know that, over the years, the menu has changed only slightly. Favorite dishes include frarej ($15.50), chicken and potatoes baked together; shish kebab ($18.95); and grilled or fried kibbeh ($15.90). There are also stuffed grape leaves ($15.90), salads ($6.25-$10.95) and bifteck ($26.40), a charbroiled rib-eye served with skillet fried potatoes. Everything is prepared in-house, including the complimentary pita bread -- thick, pleasingly chewy and served piping hot in a red basket.
With several lamb, beef and sausage selections, there's an obvious emphasis on meat dishes. A good way to sample them is the meat combo ($20.70), which, like most of Hedary's entrees, is meant to be shared.
The dish came with five meats: a shish kebab lined with tender, bite-size cubes of chargrilled rib-eye, tomatoes and onions; a dome of lamb kibbeh, nicely flavored with pine nuts and onions; mqaniq, a sweet and smoky pork sausage patty cooked in coriander and white wine; a spicier sausage patty called sujuk; and kafta, a plump link of ground sirloin, blended with onions and parsley. It was all served on a bed of flavorful white rice and vermicelli.
Ideal for lighter appetites, the fatush salad ($7.80) came with leaves of romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and large chunks of toasted Lebanese bread. Doused with garlic, sumac and olive oil, it offered a taste of Hedary's signature flavorings.
Another small dish filling enough to be an entree, the labni matoom appetizer ($6.90) consisted of dry yogurt topped with olive oil. The yogurt had the look and texture of sour cream and an appealing, slightly minty taste. It was meant to be scooped with the pita bread but was delicious enough on its own. On the side came unpitted green and kalamata olives, a pair each.
Desserts consisted of the popular pastry baklava and the similar shabiet ($4.50), a triangular pastry filled with milk custard. But the rice pudding ($4.50), served in a chilled parfait glass, was the real standout. Unlike most rice pudding, it wasn't overly lumpy. Instead, it had a smooth, creamy texture and, topped with shredded pistachio, was just barely sweet. It went well with a glass of Lebanese red wine ($6.50) -- a toast to another 35 years.