Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
ZENOBIA - A TASTE OF ROYALTY
by: Dick Davis
Our night about 20 years ago sampling Middle Eastern food in New Castle was meant to be mostly a courtesy to dear friend Diane Winston. Diane cajoled my wife and me for several months to spend an evening with her at well-known Mary’s restaurant, try a variety of Middle Eastern foods, and meet her new Syrian friends who cooked and worked at the establishment.
Wife Mary and I politely picked at and sampled the mostly-new-to-us dishes. We quickly discovered it was high-quality, tasty food and devoured the grape leaves, hummus, pepper sauce, garlic sauce, lamb on a rod, grilled chicken, Syrian bread, crisp salads named something like “tabouli” and “fattoush,” and last but not least, the heavenly pastries, especially the baklava.
Chicken and lamb were about the only foods Mary and I had previously eaten but both were prepared different with a variety of Syrian spices.
We were hooked on the food and quickly added Mary’s to our list of frequent places to dine. We also became acquaintances with Izdihar Mansour, daughter-in-law of restaurant owner Mary, who worked the kitchen on a regular basis.
Fast forward to eight years ago when Izdihar and her family opened Zenobia Cuisine in Canfield. Mary and I now get our Middle Eastern food fix in Canfield. Izdihar and staff produce tasty, bountiful fare in an inviting setting that is easy to get to on Rt. 224 (East Main Street) in the Hilltop Village Plaza near Rt. 11. Zenobia is in the midst of its third expansion that will provide more space including a liquor license and bar.
Over the years we’ve downed dozens of those scrumptious salads that previously we couldn’t even spell: the tabouli, which is parsley, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon, and cracked wheat; and the fattoush, which is spring mix lettuce, peppers, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, lemons, and crispy pita chips.
Being made on the spot, salads on each visit taste wonderful but always just a little bit different. Zenobia has no chain restaurant fare with pre-mixed, packaged or boxed corporate-ordered, down-to-the-pinch ingredients.
“Each recipe and each dish we serve always has its own taste,” says Izdihar. “All cooks may have the same recipe for a certain food but the quantity and quality of ingredients varies. I take great pride in always using the best ingredients we can find.”
“A Taste of Royalty” is the restaurant’s slogan. I believe it to be true and that Queen Zenobia would enjoy the fine food and dining in the Middle East decor. Zenobia was a 3rd-century Queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria who led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire.
Izdihar’s pride and quality ingredients are on display not only in those salads but in our usual entrée selection: the grilled lamb, which is tender, juicy chunks of lamb with peppers, onions, and mushrooms served with rice and our favorite tabouli salad. The lamb is always cooked just right.
Mary and I usually share the lamb dinner plus six grape leaves (small portion), a fattoush salad, the pepper and garlic sauces, hummus, and Syrian bread. The grape leaves are stuffed with a lamb and beef mix and rice. Again, the grape leaves are always cooked just right.
Prices are very reasonable at $14.99 for the dinner; $4.99 for the small portion of grape leaves; and $6.99 for the fattoush, which is just right for two. The most expensive dinner listed at $19.99 is a double order of lamb on a rod and comes with rice, tossed salad, and the pepper and garlic sauces.
Trying something other than our tried-and-true choices I discovered a pleasant surprise: stuffed cabbage. It was the special at a recent visit for lunch. I assumed anyone else’s stuffed cabbage could never come close to my mother’s pigs-in-a-blanket but ordered anyway.
Helen Kushner Davis, my mother with Slovak roots, was known for her “pigs,” especially when she cooked the stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut gems with the windows open in our home. Helen’s recipe included ground beef and loose sausage, cabbage, sauerkraut, rice, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper…and I have to stop there.
No matter how I try or tweak the recipe I can never get my pigs to taste like Helen’s. Maybe it’s meant to be that way.
Well, Izdihar’s stuffed cabbage recipe was almost as good. Please don’t haunt me from your grave, mom. I said “almost.”
I was certain a touch of lemon in the sauce and ground lamb in the meat were Izdihar’s different ingredients. But she assures me they are not. Hmmm. I guess this, too, is meant to be this way.
A friend tells us Zenobia’s fresh fish is outstanding but we’ve yet to try it. Other Middle Eastern specialties such as yakni, falafil, kibbee, gyros, baba ghannouj, and borak b’jeben (a Syrian pirogue) and ever-popular chicken wings, burgers, other salads and sandwiches, and fries complete its extensive menu. Gluten free items are also available.
Thank you, Diane, for your persistence in getting us to Mary’s in New Castle. Our friendships and dining experiences are priceless over the plates, the miles, and the years.
584 E. Main St. #10
Hilltop Village Plaza
Canfield, OH 44406
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.