In Pompano Beach, hummus where the heart is

Shiska Lebanese Grill

Overall impression: In a shopping center best known for Macy's and Lowe's, it's a pleasant surprise to come across an independently owned restaurant, let alone one that specializes in Lebanese food. All the great Lebanese dishes are here: starters such as hummus and baba ghanoush; grilled lamb and chicken; sandwiches; and one of my favorites — mloukhieh, a kind of stew served over rice and made from the green herb that shares its name. The price is right at this neighborhood eatery.

Ambience: Opened 14 months ago by brothers Walid and Gus Zabib, Shishka offers 40 seats inside and another 35 on the patio, which sits in the inner courtyard of Pompano Citi Centre. Guests love the patio, where they can order from a hookah menu that includes flavored tobacco such as coconut, chocolate/mint and something called Sex on the Beach. The kitchen is open to the dining room, which is painted a deep yellow. Tables are set fairly close together.

Background: I've always found Lebanese food to be the most refined of Middle Eastern cuisines. Some people says it's the French influence. Chef Ali Husseini came to Shishka from Cedars restaurant in Orlando, where he worked for five years. Trained in Lebanon, Husseini worked in Beirut and then New York before coming to Florida to work at Al Amir in Miami.


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Starters: We sit down to a complimentary plate of fresh green olives and pickled turnip. Hummus ($4.99) could use a tad more garlic, but it's delightfully creamy. Baba ghanoush ($4.99) doesn't have the smokiness I expect from this eggplant dish, but it's good just the same, and served with a basket of fresh pita triangles. Fattoush ($4.99) — the classic salad of lettuce, cucumber, green onion, tomatoes, green pepper, radish, sumac and toasted pita tossed in lemon and oil — is always a refreshing way to start a Middle Eastern meal, and the version here is no exception. But watch the salt in the dressing. We saw two big parties order kibbe ($8.99 small/$14.99 large), which I'll try on a return visit. It's also available fried ($5.50). Look, too, for sauteed chicken livers ($5.50) with garlic, lemon and cilantro.

Entree excellence: Grilled dishes, which come with rice and vegetables or French fries, include lamb shish kebab ($14.75), chicken shish tawook ($13.75) and boneless Cornish hen ($13.75). Many of the grilled meats are also available as pita sandwiches. Shish tawook with garlic sauce, lettuce, onion, tomato and pickles ($4.99) didn't have the garlicky bite of most garlic sauces. Special entrees include the aforementioned mloukhieh ($12.99) and bamieh ($12.99), a stew with rice and made with sauteed okra, lamb, tomato sauce, cilantro, garlic and fasolia ($12.99). Fasolia is a stew of cannellini beans, lamb, tomato sauce, cilantro and garlic. My dish included just four small pieces of lamb.

Sweet! Baklava ($4.50) and knafe ($4.50), which is made with vermicelli-like phyllo pastry, are freshly made. Shishka also serves creme caramel ($3.99), a true Lebanese treat.

Service: Outstanding. Our young waitress didn't miss a beat.

Insider tip: On Saturday nights, Shishka brings in a belly dancer. The minimum food order during shows costs $18.

Liquid assets: Almaza, the national beer of Lebanon, costs $4.25 per bottle.


jtanasychuk@tribune.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter.com at @FloridaEats.

 

Shiska Lebanese Grill

Pompano Citi Centre, 1901 N. Federal Highway

Pompano Beach, 954-943-2999, Shishka.us

Cuisine: Lebanese

Cost: Moderate

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Reservations: Suggested for party of six or more

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Beer and wine

Sound level: Noisy when full

Outside smoking: Yes

For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free lot