From inside the tiny restaurant along the Fairhope Avenue corridor comes a fragrant aroma so divine it tempts even the most hurried shopper to stop and smell the thyme, so to speak. A heavenly scent of spices and grilled meat hangs heavy over the patio dining tables and envelopes you upon entry into the Mediterranean-decorated cafe. Once seated, diners are tasked with making the near-impossible decision of what to order. Rest assured, there is no wrong choice or shortage of dishes to sample.
Declared “Worth the Drive” by Alabama Living Magazine, Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Cafe is owned by husband and wife duo, Maritza and Nader Salibi. The Downtown eatery certainly has its share of out-of-towners, but local fans, looking to satiate their Middle Eastern cravings, keep the place running.
“They used to come for my wife,” Nader, above, laughs, explaining that Maritza knows everybody. But there’s more to it, he says. “It’s our consistency. Everyone who works here cares about the food and the service.” And it’s true. Making sure guests have the best experience is a top priority for the Salibis. Nader, who was born and raised in Lebanon, explains, “It’s not about the order in which the food is served. It’s the experience, the sharing of food, the sitting down with one another.” Ecuador-born Maritza agrees, her hospitality evident in both her warm demeanor and exceptional pastry skills — the baklava alone deserves a place on everyone’s list of favorites.
The pint-sized cafe’s mission — and their food, of course — has drawn the attention of a few big-time celebrities over the years, including Vince Vaughn, Liam Hemsworth, Jason Segel, Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson.
Mediterranean dishes vary from region to region, sometimes even family to family. Many menu items are based on Nader’s time in the kitchen as a child with his grandmother. The moussaka, for example, includes chickpeas, an ingredient not often found in other versions but one he grew up using.
To those still leery to venture out of their culinary comfort zones, Nader says, “Just try it.” We know you’ll like it.
On the Menu
You can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing favorite, featuring creamy traditional hummus, fruity Kalamata hummus and fiery hummus Sriracha. Served with warm, sumac-sprinkled pita bread.
Not sure what to order? This filling appetizer sampler includes hummus, rice-stuffed grape leaves, moussaka (eggplant stew), garlic labneh (Lebanese cream cheese), falafel bites and pita bread.
A meat-lover’s delight, this over-the-top entree boasts shish kebab, chicken kebab, kafta kebab (ground beef) and lamb chops. It’s served with a house salad and homemade dressing, turmeric rice and grilled veggies.
Curried Cauliflower & Hummus
The superstar of this vegan dish is the herb-bursting za’atar pita. The savory cauliflower and hummus sprinkled with lemony sumac deserve fame, too.
Sage Lebanese Cuisine & Cafe • 319 Fairhope Avenue, Fairhope • 517-7536
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Dinner: 5 – 9 p.m., Mon – Sa