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Review: Celaborelle Phoenician in Fort Worth

Celaborelle

2257 Hemphill St.

Fort Worth

817-922-8118; www.celaborelle.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday


Posted 2:30am on Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2012

Celaborelle looks nothing like a typical restaurant, and that's because it's not. You'll find it inside a building that's been standing for more than 100 years, just south of downtown Fort Worth.

But don't let looks keep you from opening that front door. Inside, it's still very much a home, albeit with fewer walls. Curtain-covered windows let in just enough light to make it inviting and bright, yet private and cozy.

Youssef Hedary, chef and owner, reopened the restaurant in 2011 after a year and a half hiatus. And he's no stranger to Lebanese cuisine: His family runs Hedary's in Fort Worth, with a cooking legacy in Texas that stretches back to 1976.

The menu, a simple dry-erase board sitting on the floor, is chock-full of different and exciting options, especially if you're new to Lebanese food. They change daily, depending on what's going on in the kitchen.

Also worth mentioning are Celaborelle's prices, which are clearly from another era -- prices so low you will ask if there's been a mistake.

Before inflation hits Celaborelle, I was fortunate enough to try a few specialties, including the potato kibbeh.

Potato kibbeh (95 cents) is very much like a square slice of pie stuffed with soft, cubed potatoes. It has a crispy crust on top, and the dish is reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing. It has a spicy intensity, which I found best to enjoy in small bites.

Another dish, the red lentils and rice (95 cents), is like the pureed offspring of mashed potatoes and a bowl of oatmeal or grits. Like the kibbeh, the spicing is strong, but your love for the dish will more likely hinge on how you feel about its texture.

The Lebanese salad ($1.95) and hummus ($1.95) were some of the only familiar options listed on the erase board when I visited.

The salad of greens, onions and tomatoes was crunchy, tangy and fresh, with a dressing of lemon, olive oil and some very pronounced garlic.

The hummus ($1.95) was creamy, with a mild flavor that plays well with the hot, warm pita bread served alongside it, made in-house by Hedary.

That same pita bread is found in the maneesh, a pizzalike dish topped with vegetables and feta cheese ($3.70). The pita "crust" puts to shame most other pizza dough I have tried. It is seasoned with za'atar, a blend of spices, including thyme, and sesame seeds. The vegetables are fresh, chunky and crunchy, while the cheese, instead of being melted, is simply thrown into the mix, also in chunks.

The result is a nontraditional, vegetable pizza that stands up against anything made in an American or Italian kitchen.

Even better than that is the chicken shawarma ($6.95) plate served with fluffy rice. It is a symphony of ingredients, including moist, chargrilled chicken; onions; peppers; mushrooms; and a hearty, spicy sauce with just the right viscosity.

When the restaurant first opened, diners had the opportunity to try such dishes at Celaborelle's buffet. However, Hedary no longer offers a buffet option. He feels diners don't fully understand the characteristics behind each recipe. When they do, and if there's still a demand, he will bring back the well-known buffet.

And that's fine. It'll be worth the wait.

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