Middle East in the Middle West

Cedarland offers exceptional Middle Eastern cuisine

 By Brandy King
photo: Baba ghannouj with housemade pita at Cedarland Restaurant & Bakery

For someone who makes a point to visit and review as many dives as possible – local and otherwise – it’s downright shameful that I’d long avoided the one closest to my own turf.  Cedarland Bakery & Restaurant is nestled in an otherwise abandoned strip mall on Linden Avenue, shortly before you get into Beavercreek territory. They specialize in Middle Eastern and Lebanese foods, which aren’t something that the Miami Valley is overflowing with. Upon searching, I could only find high opinions of the place (even from Lebanese natives), so my excuses to go someplace more familiar were finally exhausted. I thought ahead and looked at their menu and saw that it might not be something that my husband (a meat-and-potatoes Hoosier) would be interested in, so I took my sister instead.

At 6:30 on a weeknight, we walked in to see no one else in the joint – but it didn’t stay empty for long. Cedarland is set up deli-style, so you order at the counter and they bring it out after they’ve prepared it. For those new to Lebanese fare, they have a helpful picture menu near the register so you can see exactly what you’re getting into. The Food vs. Face women are big fans of food sharing, so we ordered half the menu to split. OK, really only six items, but it felt like it when our table started filling up with food. We originally only meant for five, then spotted the baklava in the bakery case and couldn’t help ourselves. Those three mains, two sides, dessert and two sodas set us back $27. The staff was very sweet and patient with us while ordering and asked if we’d ever been in before, even excitedly telling us about their buffet on Saturdays. That was when I noticed there was an entire additional room that was more dining and less deli. I’m not quite certain if it’s only for Saturday buffets and large parties, or if you can just meander in there and eat your food any old time. While we waited for our food, I also perused the little bit of a storefront they have – offering hookahs, Middle Eastern treats and American treats in slightly more across-the-pond packaging. For Cadbury Europe chocolate lovers: check this joint before you haul buns to Jungle Jim’s for your favorite sweet treats.

I was impressed by how quickly the food came out, but a little bit surprised to see the beef shawarma and falafel sandwiches both tucked tightly into a housemade pita, not unlike a burrito.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but deconstructing a burrito never makes for good food photography. We were already cutting them in half, so I figured why not just unwrap and peek inside to see all of the fixins. The housemade pitas, by the way, will be a lot thinner than the retail versions you’re used to and they’re tops.

The falafel and beef shawarma were both topped with lettuce, tomato, spices and fresh parsley, and the beef had been dressed in a terrific sesame sauce. The falafel was excellent, but just overwhelmed enough by all of the accoutrements that I almost wish I could have ordered some à la carte (it wasn’t on the menu that way). Both of the sandwiches were awesome, and even though they could both make for a heavy meal, everything tasted fresh. The chicken kebab came out a few minutes after the first round, also tightly wrapped in a pita. On the slice, the bright fuschia spots were a dead giveaway that there were pickled veggies of some sort in there. The only vegetable I think should be pickled is a cucumber, but I tried it anyway. Definitely not for me, but it could be another fresh and filling option for someone who doesn’t mind that flavor profile. The tabouli salad and baba ghannouj were both excellent on the fresh pitas they came with, even mixed together. One of the gals from the counter came around as she could see we were rounding third and heading for home to make sure we enjoyed our food and ask if we’d need anything else. We didn’t even come close to finishing all of the plates, so we made sure she knew we loved everything and would certainly be back to check out their buffet with family in tow.

Let’s get to the important part: the baklava. Best I’ve ever had, beating Ticket’s Pub by a photo finish. Like a little cloud of crunchy honey, dusted with pistachios. It could even be one-upped if they offered it served warm. Never heard of Ticket’s? We’ll get to that one eventually, just bear with me. In the meantime, continue frequenting dicey-looking eateries. If I teach you nothing else, eaters, know that the best food doesn’t always come in the best packages, tarted up with bells, whistles and fried appetizer samplers.

Cedarland Bakery & Restaurant is located at 4515 Linden Ave. in Riverside. For more information, call 937.610.2888 or visit cedar-land.com.

Reach DCP freelance  writer Brandy King at  BrandyKing@daytoncitypaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. 

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