Almost the same, but not quite

K.A. Café takes up residence in Café Beirut's old digs on Whyte Avenue

Meaghan BaxterMeaghan Baxter

Let me start this week with my first public apology of 2014. I owe my sincerest apologies to the fine folks at Sabzy, which I wrongly identified as having closed their doors, leaving Edmonton eaters Persian-less. Sabzy has merely moved to 9314 – 34 Ave in scenic Mill Woods, a fact which could have been quickly avouched with a quick Google search (see for yourself at sabzy.net). See what happens when your mind goes on vacation and your mouth works overtime?

One thing that’s always set Persian food apart from other Middle Eastern cuisine is its hearty, delicious stews, and Sabzy features one of my faves on its menu in fesenjoon—chicken on the bone simmered in walnut-pomegranate sauce—so be sure to put that on your “To Eat” list. And while I’m glad I was wrong about Sabzy’s status, health-wise, I won’t recant my wish that more Persian restaurants hang out their shingles in our environs so we can all get to know the style of food a little better.

How are everyone’s New Year’s resolutions holding up? The wheels on my resolution to eat out less have fallen right off right out of the gate. Since my last column, I’ve eaten at I Love Sushi downtown (twice!) and Sushi Wasabi (still the best sushi around in my view) in Lendrum, had two big Castle Bake breakfasts and a bowl of noodles with pork, pork and pork (and spring rolls) at Pagolac, and heavily abraded the roof of my mouth with a sopressata panini at the Italian Centre’s café. And somewhere in there, I found time to drop by K.A. Café on Whyte.

I confess to not knowing of K.A. Café’s existence until 2014, having learned by the Internet that its predecessor in that space, Café Beirut, had moved on to another venue (wherever you got to, Café Beirut, let us know!). The new owners took over in May and, to be honest, it doesn’t look like they have changed much. Or anything.

Which is, in many regards, excellent. Sure the dining room, which was a touch under-illuminated on the night of my visit, could use a little freshening up. But almost the entirety of Café Beirut’s menu, including the prices, remains intact. That means you can get not just shawarma and shish taouk, hummus and falafel, but also mujadra (lentils and rice with plenty of aromatic spices and fried onions) and mesakka’a (velvety stewed eggplant with tomatoes and chickpeas), kibbe (meatballs) and fattoush salad.

In another lapse of food-writer rigour, I failed to ask what the K.A. in K.A. Café stood for. Otherwise, the young man behind the counter was hospitable and good-natured in fielding what must have seemed like a suspicious number of questions about the restaurant’s current ownership and operation. He admitted that the addition of “Yemeni cuisine” to K.A.’s signage wasn’t reflected in the current menu but would be available as daily specials through the warmer months.

In case you’ve never been to Café K.A./Beirut, a good place to dip the proverbial toe is the combo platter, which sated two hungry guys, especially chased with Lebanon’s favourite fruity non-alcoholic malt beverage, Laziza. The $21 asking price gets you a skewer each of kofta, chicken shish taouk and beef shawarma, some crunchy falafel, mounds of hummus and baba ghanoush, an ample serving of fattoush salad, a heap of magenta pickles and lots of pita, both toasted and in its natural state, for scooping it all up.

Though garlic and onion are predominant flavours in Lebanese cooking, I love the complexity imparted by the blending of cinnamon, allspice, cloves and cumin in dishes like the aforementioned mujadra and the ground-beef kebab known as kofta. The cubed meats used to make the shish taouk and shawarma, both redolent of lemon and garlic, were likewise grilled to juicy perfection. The chickpea and eggplant dips likewise evinced a bracing dose of garlic and served as condiments, though the potent garlic paste known as toum, a regular component of such a platter, was conspicuous by its absence. The fattoush salad was fresh and crunchy, with lots of crisped pita, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes tossed with the lettuce and lemon red wine vinegar dressing.

In all, K.A.’s combo platter is a credit to the form and a worthy continuation of the quality established by its forebear. Or, to put it in a way I saw expressed again and again as a marketing slogan as I travelled around the Middle East, “Same same, but different.”

K.A. Café
10812 – 82 Ave,
587.524.2222

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