Experienced restaurateurs know that timing is everything. Byblos partners Tarek Tay, Gabriel Saliba and Hicham Khodr first looked at the Elmwood tract that would eventually house Nacho Mama’s on Clearview Parkway 15 years ago and had kept an eye on the site ever since.
“We got distracted by other things and it didn’t happen,” says Tay. “But we stayed in touch with the owner and told him to let us know first if he ever left.” The owner did just that in the midst of the pandemic and this time the moment was right.
Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant named after Saliba’s home village, celebrates its 28th anniversary on Metairie Road in October. Their 3 of a Kind Restaurant Group has opened and closed a handful of restaurants over the years, and their current holdings include the original location and the Byblos Market on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, which opened in 2001 with its casual atmosphere and stock of staples from the Middle East was opened.
They opened the 3,200-square-foot Elmwood location in March with combined indoor and outdoor seating for 140. Tay is excited about it, saying the restaurant is exactly the size and location that reflects the company’s direction.
“People want a place where they can park easily and take their families with them without worry,” he says. “I have three boys. That’s the kind of place I want to be.”
Tay wished the kitchen was a bit bigger but sacrificed that for the ample bar area with its pretty Lebanese-inspired yellow stone. “It’s so pretty,” he says.
Chef Tiffany Thomas leads the kitchen and brings experience including five years at the Commander’s Palace and stints at the Jack Rose and Hotel Saint Vincent before taking over the Byblos kitchen in May.
The Elmwood menu is similar to that of the original location. “We’ve removed some things like grape leaves and moussaka from the menu. These are prep things, and this is a bigger and busier restaurant than Metairie Road,” says Tay. “I also encourage Chef Tiffany to go beyond Middle Eastern cuisine and include Mediterranean dishes as specials. France, Italy and Spain are all on the Mediterranean, and in the case of Spain, this cuisine is heavily influenced by the Middle East.”
For a recent special, Thomas served grilled tuna with grapefruit beurre blanc. “It sold like crazy,” she says. “We look around the corner a bit and see what our customers want.”
Restaurant favorites are left undisturbed, including appetizers like fried cauliflower with sumac, baba ghanoush, spanakopita, and hummus. Complements include roasted Brussels sprouts with buttermilk garlic drizzle, smoked trout dip with fried pita wedges, and bacon wrapped shrimp. A mix of feta, jack and cream cheese is fried in spring roll casings and drizzled with pepper jelly. Kebabs, shawarmas, steak frites, rack of lamb and daily fish dishes are just a few of the main dishes.
One side of the restaurant is dominated by a large pizza oven that produces rounds of pita with a sourdough note to its puffy goodness. Thompson plans to make more use of this oven in the near future, perhaps with flatbread and roasted seafood.
Though the workforce is still growing, the management team is in place, Tay says. Managing Director is Jeannette Stansbury, who most recently ran Katie’s Restaurant & Bar in Mid-City.
“We’re surrounded by a concentration of workers,” says Tay. “River Ridge is nearby. We are moving from the West Bank as we are just past the bridge. And we are near Metairie.”
Though Elmwood has more than its share of chain restaurants, Tay believes that’s about to change. “I think this area will be a big draw for local chefs in the years to come,” he says.
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