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Kibbee Nayee

Mediterranean Gourmet Market, Franconia - George Azar's Middle Eastern Cuisine on Franconia Road

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I have the moniker of Kibbee Nayee, so I should know something about Middle Eastern fare. My mother may be the best Middle Eastern cook in the world, but since she lives 120 miles away, I have to have a substitute. I've been all over northern Virginia, the District and southern Maryland. There is no better Middle Eastern food in this region than Mediterranean Gourmet Market.

Fair warning, this is a deli/market more than a restaurant. There are only a sparse few tables scattered between a few rows of grocery shelves, but the magic is in the back, wherein lies the kitchen and wood-fired oven. The Lebanese "pizzas" that emerge from here dwarf the chic nouveau flatbread places cropping up all over our beloved 'burbs. But don't stop here. The little mini-pies, loaded with any of meat, labne (thick yogurt), cheese, spinach or kishk (a yogurt-sesame paste) are delicious and fortifying. Then there's the mezze, an assortment of anything you can imagine, but lifted higher than the current Middle Eastern standbys. Try hommus (the best around), baba ghanouj, tabouli, lubieh (green beans) and bamieh (okra) bil zeit (braised in tomato sauce), stuffed grape leaves, olives, and on and on.

If you're able, move on the main courses, where chicken, lamb and beef shish kabob highlight the offerings. There's also gyros and souvlaki, which may be a tip of the hat to the Greek neighbors of the Lebanese, but if you taste these versions you'll understand, culinarily speaking, that these delicious dishes came from the Lebanese-Syrian region and were taken over by the Greeks.

Interestingly, whenever I ask a taxi cab driver where they like to eat, they invariably point to this haven of the best of Middle Eastern cuisine. Thankfully, it's only a few miles from where I live, but if it were 100 miles away, I would still be a regular.

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My kids decided to take me to the Mediterranean Gourmet Market for my Father's Day kibbee nayee fix, and I'm glad they did. I'm still in a kibbee nayee coma.

Lillian and George saved us a table in the corner -- this is a market and carry-out deli with just a small and austere seating area. They brought out the spread -- hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouli, fried kibbee footballs, stuffed grape leaves, and kibbee nayee. Plus fresh pita bread right out of the oven, as well as Lebanese pizzas topped with zaatar, meat and cheese. The kibbee nayee and grape leaves must be ordered ahead, although Sunday is their normal kibbee nayee day.

I thought it was sensational. The kibbee nayee was superb, among the best I ever had, with a pleasant taste of fresh lamb lingering on the palate. The grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice are probably the best in the area, or at least the best I've ever had around here. The hummus and baba ghanouj were flawless, and the tabbouli was clean and fresh and lemony. My kids devoured the meat and cheese pizzas. We ate too much and had a wonderful time. My refrigerator is stocked with leftovers from the feast, although there is no leftover kibbee nayee.

FWIW, they source their meat from Skyline Butcher in Falls Church.

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My kids decided to take me to the Mediterranean Gourmet Market for my Father's Day kibbee nayee fix, and I'm glad they did. I'm still in a kibbee nayee coma.

Lillian and George saved us a table in the corner -- this is a market and carry-out deli with just a small and austere seating area. They brought out the spread -- hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouli, fried kibbee footballs, stuffed grape leaves, and kibbee nayee. Plus fresh pita bread right out of the oven, as well as Lebanese pizzas topped with zaatar, meat and cheese. The kibbee nayee and grape leaves must be ordered ahead, although Sunday is their normal kibbee nayee day.

I thought it was sensational. The kibbee nayee was superb, among the best I ever had, with a pleasant taste of fresh lamb lingering on the palate. The grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice are probably the best in the area, or at least the best I've ever had around here. The hummus and baba ghanouj were flawless, and the tabbouli was clean and fresh and lemony. My kids devoured the meat and cheese pizzas. We ate too much and had a wonderful time. My refrigerator is stocked with leftovers from the feast, although there is no leftover kibbee nayee.

FWIW, they source their meat from Skyline Butcher in Falls Church.

I am so envious of your feast. Sounds incredible and very fitting. I am a major fan of MGM&B. Kudos to the kids.

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You know what sucks?

[Waking up next to Landrum, and not remembering anything about the night before?]

Well, not that I would know that, but the next worse thing? Knowing you want takeout from a place, and them not having a menu on line. So it goes for Mediterranean Gourmet Market. Fortunately, I was able to do the next best thing, and send my wife Barbara there to get takeout while I stopped at the store for wine. She brought home mixed kabobs, chicken shwarma sandwich, tabbouleh, green beans cooked with tomatoes and garlic, and a couple of mini-pitas, one with feta, one with za'atar. This was a ton of food, but it wasn't too heavy and paired well with our grenache tonight. And she brought home two menus, one for the car, and one for home.

I scanned it so I can post it here, and now we all have it!

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Off the menu is even better. They serve kibbee nayee on Sundays, but call ahead to make sure you reserve the 3 or 4 pounds that I would normally consume. Also, the warak enab bil laham, which is stuffed grape leaves with meat and rice, should be ordered ahead. Also, the malfouf, which is stuffed cabbage, should be ordered ahead. Now, THAT'S a feast...!

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I'm going to let you in on a little secret. As far as I'm concerned, the single best breakfast sandwich on the planet is available at Mediterranean Gourmet Market, and not even George and Lillian are fully aware of it.

They make a few "pies" that are about 5" diameter, with various toppings. These are just little pitas with toppings that are somewhat traditional, but a few are cooked up in house. One of them is the traditional za'atar, which is quite good on its own. Another is their own invention, a little pita pie covered in lubneh and diced tomato, with herbs like parsley. Both are quite delicious in their own right.

But....take one of each and slap them together in a sandwich of za'atar and lubneh and tomato and herbs....wow! That's a breakfast sandwich that will get you well through the morning and then some.

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For about a year, it has been difficult to score the shrink-wrapped little balls of shankleesh in this area -- I inquired at Lebanese Butcher, Mediterranean Bakery, Lebanese Taverna and here. George explained to me that it was becoming too expensive to carry, but I persisted. Last week, four-packs from Dearborn, Michigan arrives at Mediterranean Gourmet Market, and I grabbed a few. I'm glad I did. Scrambled eggs in the morning never tasted so good...!

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Lunch today at Mediterranean Gourmet Market was excellent. Five adults and two children enjoyed a table full of Kibbee Nayee (of course), Sfeehah Ba'albeck, and assorted kabobs and veggie samplers. The Sfeehah Ba'albeck is new, and one of the many things I like about this place is that they're always experimenting with new dishes. You have to order it ahead, but it's worth it. Small disks of bread topped with a meat mixture fresh out of the oven. Yum. And the Kibbee Nayee has to be ordered ahead too, but what a treat. Easily one of the best renditions in our area. Special mention goes to the Bamieh bil-Zeit, a stewed okra and tomato dish that is really good.

The only thing keeping Mediteranean Gourmet Market from being the absolute best Middle Eastern restaurant in our area is that it is really a bakery-grocery-carryout with a few tables and chairs. But I assure you, some of the best Middle Eastern food within driving distance can be had here, and Lillian is pouring a lot of love into her food. Count me a devotee.

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Naturally, for Father's Day, my kids took me here for my regular kibbeh nayeh fix. It was superb, as always, and is typically only on the menu in Sundays....no problem, the rest of the munchies were quite nice as well. Their hummus has a creamy texture with deep tahini flavor, and their tabbouli was fresh and refreshing. The kids aimed for the fresh pita pies out of the brick oven, particularly those topped with beef and those topped with cheese. The neglected one topped with spinach became my late afternoon snack. Wonderful flavors.

This place was packed with the mostly indigenous crowd on Sundays, and it overflowed out to the sidewalk tables. They have to find a way to either buy out the dry cleaner next door and expand, or just move to a bigger space. This is food that competes with Me Jana, Layalina and the original Lebanese Taverna as one of the better examples of this cuisine.

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We walked down, after our lunch at Sampan Cafe, but since we were stuffed & had lots of leftovers, we just picked up 4 dolmades. Tom told me they overcharged me (.75c each, & it was $4 & change, but I think the guy was thinking about the mini-pies, which I want to go back & try, they looked delicious (99.c) or we were charged for a takeout container). Tom said they were good, but quite sour. I'll go back soon, & try some of the little pies...I think all the tables were occupied, around noon on a Saturday....

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Let the Super Bowl begin....the Kibbee Nayee is in the house and all is well with the world....George declared this his best-ever batch, and I can happily confirm same....

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This is my birthday week, or as I refer to it, the annual reminder of my oncoming dotage. To celebrate with abondon, I broke the party into two weekend events. Last weekend - May 24th - we enjoyed a huge plate of kibbeh nayyeh, a pile of stuffed grape leaves, and all manner of sides and accompaniments. The kibbeh nayyeh and warak enab are both "order ahead" dishes. For me, kibbeh nayyeh goes best with fresh raw veggies, olives, Lebanese gherkins and fresh Syrian bread. (Pita bread is the new name for Syrian bread, which is borrowed from Greek....the actual term for this wonderful chewy bread is khubz arabi, or bread of the Arabs. BTW, I always get mine fresh from the Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria.) When Lillian has a few days to order the meat and give George enough time to trim it, it comes out perfectly. By far, it's the best in the DC metropolitan area. And the warak enab is mouth-watering goodness in a small wrapper, needing only a dip of yogurt to reach culinary perfection.

This weekend, it's going to be kibbeh nayyeh and malfouf, or stuffed cabbage. I asked Lillian to make the more northern Syrian - Armenian - Iraqi version that I grew up with, with a tomato-y base. She nailed it! When I walked in to pick it up today, she brought me the tunjra (a covered pot that I bring her whenever I order that kind of dish, so I can take it home and serve it out of its own cooking vessel), and said "take one." I couldn't believe how good this dish was. My father passed away five years ago, and his favorite dish in the world was malfouf. He would have raved over this version.

I can't get enough of this place. I wish they had more tables, or more space, but this is some damned fine Middle Eastern food. Sure, I like a lot of other Middle Eastern restaurants, but my choice of two weekends of food feasts from this place for the annual observation of my impending dotage should indicate my overall preference quite clearly.

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It's been awhile since Lady KN and I checked in with George and Lily, and Lily reminded me of such with a nice voice mail last week wondering if I was OK. This being the holiday season, Lady KN and I packed a bottle of El Massaya arak in a gift bag and headed to see George and Lily for lunch today. 

After the greetings and hugs and family catch-up chit-chat, we sat down to a pleasant, if gut-busting, feast. We shared a combination platter of kabobs, along with small orders of hummus special (with meat topping), labne drizzled with olive oil, lubee (broad beans with tomato sauce), sauteed spinach, and a plate of pickles, pickled turnips, and olives. All of this was accompanied by bread from their oven, so hot it had to cool off for a minute or two before we could rip off pieces to serve as our dipping scoops. The food was outstanding. A true mom-and-pop serving up some of the fare of its kind in northern Virginia -- still on top of its game after nearly 17 years. Count me a very enthusiastic fan. Don't expect luxury here -- you're eating off styrofoam plates with plastic utensils in a small grocery store. But do expect some of the best Lebanese food in this area.

Before we left, I picked up some shankleesh and olive oil, the latter because it makes for ideal holiday gifts, and the former because eggs and shankleesh are a pairing sent to us from Heaven.

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Yes, it was my birthday week, and yes, it was high time for my namesake kibbee nayyeh from George and Lilian. This may have been their best effort yet.

Allow me to point out that this is a hybrid grocery and restaurant. They have been at this location for a good 15 years, and they have a solid following in the Middle Eastern community here in northern Virginia. George has lost some weight as a result of some serious Lenten sacrifice, and he looks good. Lilian broke a bone in her back a few months ago, and she wears a brace and gets along slowly. But the quality level is really quite high.

The kibbee nayyeh was my main reason for coming here, but we put in our typical assortment of off-the-menu orders. Wow, was this feast delicious. The kibbee nayyeh was the best ever, and the warak enab -- grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat -- was sensational. Likewise, the cooked kibbee footballs were the best I've ever eaten anywhere, with a thick layer of meat on the outside and a flavorful filling of walnuts, onions, and spices inside. I can't say enough about the perfection of each dish -- the hummus was creamy and delicious, the baba ghanouj was smoky and luscious, and the meat sfeehah was as good as it gets. Tabbouli, spinach ftayer, and labneh rounded out the feast.

The feast was accompanied by fresh bread and olives from Mediterranean Bakery....I'm still in a food coma.

The images are of the kibbee nayyeh before and after. A few more bites of the after disappeared after the picture was taken, and the rest was cooked for a leftover treat.

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Kibbee Nayyeh eaten.jpg

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