Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Taste of Lebanon

The executive chef and owner of a new restaurant in Western Mass not only serves tasty Lebanese food, he's also a testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Richard "Dick" Joseph and his life partner, Valerie Soules, opened "Effendi's Oasis" at the end of January. A small, immaculate establishment with green walls and glass-topped tables, Effendi's is located at 1206 North Street in Pittsfield, MA. Casa blanca fans are overhead, as well as plants hanging from a trellis in the middle of the ceiling.

Just a few years ago, Joseph had no inkling he'd be the owner of a new restaurant. He was injured at his job, at that time, had a brain aneurysm, and was pronounced "Dead on Arrival" at a hospital where medical personnel revived him. He then survived emergency brain surgery and remained hospitalized for seven and a half months!

With a fierce determination to recuperate, Joseph enrolled in a culinary arts program at Berkshire Community College, also located in Pittsfield. Through the encouragement of instructors and the Disability Resource Center at the college, he graduated in 2009 with a certificate in Culinary Arts. Then, he did additional studies under master chefs at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

At Effendi's, Joseph makes recipes from his family's 200-year-old cookbook. Familiar Lebanese specialties such as tabouli (parsley, scallions, tomatoes, and Bulgar); hummus (whipped chick peas, tahini, and lemon juice. Joseph's version also includes parsley and tomatoes); and umjuddra (cooked lentils, onions, and spices.)

The restaurant is opened daily for lunch as well as for dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for dinner.

The day my daughter and I went, I had the "fatouche" green salad. The Lebanese use sumac in the olive oil/vinegar dressing. It's a tasty salad with crunch from toasted pita bread pieces and zest from the dressing.

My daughter had the combination platter which consisted of tabouli, hummus, and pocket bread.

Ingredients tasted fresh and the entre came in a healthy proportion. Joseph, a former high school football star, said he emphasizes "fresh" ingredients in his cooking. Our server, Janice Martin, also the restaurant's manager, was friendly and helpful, making us feel welcome. Highlight of the day was the baklava, a dessert that literally melted in the mouth. (I had just a tiny nibble to taste it but my daughter polished off two luscious pieces.) It's a nutty, sweet dessert with layers of phyllo dough and was served with exotic rosewater and a mint leaf.

Joseph came to our table several times and offered explanations of the food as well as checked to see if we felt satisfied. One would never know from looking at him, that he fought back from the brink of death.

A sketch of a cedar tree, a symbol in Lebanese culture, adorns the menu of Effendi's. There's also a saying printed there. It reads: "A Lebanese will offer his guests the very best he has and sets out food in abundance."

Effendi's Oasis also offers takeout.


Chatty Crone said...

What a brave courageous man. And the restaurant looks amazing. I love food like that. Another thing in common - I have aa girlfriend from Lebanon - her husband died - and she started a Lebanese restaurant about 5 years ago. I usually meet a girlfriend there every Wednesday night for a girl's night out and tonight is no exception.

That food looks spectacular!


Susan said...

Have fun, Sandie! Wish I could join you girls, for yummy food and good company. Have fun! Sincerely, Susan

Nezzy said...

This Ozarks farm chick has never had to opportunity to eat at a Lebanese restaurant but the food looks amazingly yummy! I'm gonna have to get of the Ponderosa long enough to search out one 'cause I especially want to try one of those melt in you mouth desserts. MMmmmmm....drools drippin' here. Will somebody pass me a hankie????

From the hills and hollers of Missouri ya'll have a wonderfully blessed day!!!

Rosie@Journey to Charm said...

Gosh darn, I'm a Missourian, too. We don't get a lot of unique cuisines here. Eat some more for me. Thanks.

Susan said...

Hi Nezzy! So glad you stopped by! Come again, okay? Love visitors!

And hi Rosie! No unique cuisines in Missouri? Hmmmmm. Didn't know that. Thanks for your visit!

Sincerely, Susan

LDH said...

Sending best wishes to this dear man who has certainly has not let difficult times be an obstacle to him.. His eatery looks awesome!

Adrienne said...

It all looks so yummy. His baklava looks superb! I've seen some really bad baklava in my day - but certainly not his.

Susan said...

Hello LDH and Adrienne...Thanks for coming by and commenting! Loved knowing you visited.

Yes, Adrienne, the baklava at Effendi's looked fabulous and my daughter said it was divine!

Hope everyone has a super evening! Sincerely, Susan

Gloria said...

Susan: I happened to read your comment to Susan at BNOTP, complaining of not being able to sit outside due to bugs, etc. -- I am in Southeastern CT (Hello Neighbor!) and I must tell you that YARD GUARD is absolutely fantastic. Buy one and you will be so happy. I have used it for years during the spring and summer. You spray it in a circle around the area you want to contain from bugs and it truly works! For at least three hours. I ALWAYS use it when I have people over and we eat outside. It is a fantastic product. Hope it works for you -- drop me a note and let me know if it does!
Best regards,

BECKY said...

Hey...I live in Missouri! It just depends what PART you live in, as to what kind of restaurants are nearby! I live in the St. Louis area, and we have a little bit of everything here! Hi Rosie and Nezzy! Where do you live? I'll come by and check out your blogs!

Susan said...

Hi Gloria....Thanks for the info on Yard Guard. DEFINITELY worth a try. Was also so happy you came to visit and chose to follow! THANKS, Gloria! Welcome!

Hi Becky! Wish you could come to visit me, too, but that would be a long trip! Ha! Have a good day!

Sincerely, Susan

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