Luscious Lebanese 

Mediterranean Bakery specializes in esoteric and affordable

The signage is not sexy. But pass through the doors of this simple cafe and store, and you'll feel as if you've sneaked upon something almost sinful -- like cheating on your mama. To enter the hearthlike warmth of this hidden treasure is like sitting in some foreign maternal lap of love.

Open for about four years and hidden between a Big Lots and a billiard bar in a shopping strip near Northlake Mall, the Lebanese-owned Mediterranean Bakery is fast-expanding. Owner and chef Bassam Monzer recently doubled his space and will open an outdoor seating area for hookah-pipe puffing and more elegant dining before summer's end. He's also working on a beer-and-wine license and plans to specialize in Mediterranean varietals.

Bread head: The amalgamation of leavened and semileavened breads shaped in magical circular frisbees or stuffed with savory spices and pinched with personality are enough to draw any connoisseur of the esoteric and affordable. The cheese and zaatar ($3.99) is a pizzalike disc. Half the dough is covered with thyme, sesame seed and olive oil (zaatar) and the other half with a sweet-and-sour cheese. The lahmajoun is topped with lean ground beef, perfectly grilled onions and a puree with a lingering hint of cinnamon.

The freshness of lemon and parsley, mint and green olive oil bless many of the dishes in various measures – usually one of the ingredients is left to shine appropriately while the rest provide the incoming scent or the ethereal aftertaste.

Fava-licous: Most items on the menu are healthy yet satisfying due to this mix of textures, contrasting colors and balanced tastes -- sweet, sour, salty and spicy all play their roles well. The chicken shawarma, difficult to find in Atlanta, is heightened by a garlic spread and pickles. Beef shawarma is smeared with sesame sauce, fresh parsley and moist tomatoes. Vegetarians have endless options. There are the standard hummus and baba ghanouj dips and sandwiches, and the hearty foul madamas, which blend fat fava beans with olive oil, herbs and various vegetables. Many options are available in either sandwich form or as plates ranging in price from $4.50 to $6.50.

Perhaps the best deal in town is the kabob dinner for two ($19.99). This three-course spread includes grape leaves, kibbi, tabouli salad and a main dish of kabobs of chicken, beef, kafta and lamb. There is even baklava for dessert. Perfect for an intimate leisurely date.

Explore more: Even on a full stomach you'll want to fill your cart with the adjoining store's goods. There's an extensive olive bar, figs in a thousand forms, balls of Armenian string cheese, shrimp pate and aromatic rose tea. Don't miss the baby pitas, flavored flat lavash and a parade of pastries. You can even buy your own hookah. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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