Garlic ‘n LemonsAllston, MAPub/Cafe
4-Star Cafe(our ratings)
Finally, a Middle Eastern quick stop with food that you’ll want to eat so much of, you might just hurt yourself.
Review by Johnny Monsarrat
It’s about the meat. I’ve only ever had dreams about one restaurant — the Midwest Grill in Cambridge — for their glorious, vegetarian crippling meats. But I think I’ll be dreaming about Garlic ‘n Lemons soon, which also cooks using vertical broilers open to view. They were my favorite at the recent Taste of Allston, and I’ve been looking forward to visiting in person.
The Lebanese restaurant just opened in April, but the family has been in the business for years. The founder of the restaurant, Rosie Helvadjian helped grow Aceituna Cafe, in Kendall Square, Cambridge, and gained quite a following there. But the owner didn’t want to franchise, and thus, she started her own location.
“Cooking is my life.” She says. “If I don’t cook, I have no life.” Her sons chime in with similar enthusiasm. “I told my wife I’m married to this business for 5 years”, says Marty, who just returned from training in South Lebanon. Was that before or after the wedding vows? I wonder, but the thought doesn’t last long. It’s knocked out of me by the food.
“If you don’t love cooking, you can’t do anything.” Rosie tells me confidently, while she makes sure that I’m eating and eating. Far from being awkward, it’s comforting that she’s a sort of mother as well to me and her customers.
The beef & lamb shawerma — that call it spicy beef but it’s really “sujek”, an armenian sausage — is the best, freshest meat I’ve had in ages and needs no topping. But it comes with rice, salad, and lemon. There’s also a unnecessary garlic dip for the meats, which is creamy but not too rich.
I also tried the “mloukhieh”, which is jute leaves & cilantro with chicken over rice, with onions & vinegar with pita chips. There’s nothing deep fried here and the taste is natural, wholesome, rather than the result of too many spices or sauces. Again, the meat is juicy and not too fatty. You’re left with a great combination: food that’s international and exotic, but also accessible and not demandingly strange.
Although not a hole-in-the-wall, the location is small and has no table service. But that just means no additional cost for tipping, and they’ve got lower prices than the Middle Eastern places I’m familiar with. It seats fewer than 20 people, and while they don’t have real napkins — just the brown paper towels you see in public restrooms — the environment is clean, upbeat, brightly lit, and homey. You wouldn’t be embarassed to bring a date there, as long as it wasn’t your first date.
Although there’s a television in the corner, there isn’t a sports bar feel, and the place is quiet, with no music playing. The main noise is the refrigerator of cold drinks. They’ve got drinks you won’t find elsewhere, like Vimto, a fruit drink that a lot of foreign students ask for. Again, it’s exotic but accessible. It tastes like root beer.
“We have daily specials to change up the menu”, Rosie tells me, and although I can’t eat anything more, she twists my arm and I try a small bite of osmalia. Ten seconds later I have eaten the whole thing. It’s a dessert with filo dough, a creme filling, and a brittle topping, a combination of soft and crunchy that makes a great mouth feel. It tastes honey soaked, but not too sweet. That’s not honey, it’s rose water, Rosie says. I’ve got to get me some of this rose water.
Garlic ‘n Lemons has a full menu, with the Middle Eastern foods you’d expect: falafel, kebabs, grape leaves, meat pies, couscous, and hummus. But you can also get an eggplant on your kebab, with soup and french fries. They also provide buffet style catering. Unfortunately, they don’t have a website yet, but you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and pick up a takeout menu at their location.
There’s no way I can eat any more, but I find myself allowing Rosie to serve me a rollup with a spicy hamburger called “kefta”, which is served with cheese. They’ve also got a vegetarian version with olives and oregano. Again, it’s to die for. She seems satisfied by my appreciation. “I make that cheese in here”, she says with maternal pride, which tells you all you need to know about Garlic ‘n Lemons.
133 Harvard Ave.
Allston, MA 02134