Fort Worth Star-Telegram photos by Gene Gordon.
1) ONE PIZZA MAN’S FAMILY… from left: Antoine, Leila and all the hedarys
2) THE LITTLEST WAITER…Franco Hedary, 6, serves customers
4) IN THE KITCHEN… Antoine Hedary cuts meat for kibby, Shish kebob
5) Shish Kebob
Article by PERRY STEWART Star-Telegram Writer
Eating without a fork is permissible at Hedary’s Lebanese Restaurant. In fact, it’s proper.
Yet conventional utensils are available for occidentals who are discovering this unassuming eatery in growing droves.
The technique, Antoine Hedary will tell you, is to rip off a hunk of Arab bread and shove in the morsels between paper-thin layers to make a kind of Middle Eastern burrito.
Hedary is a quietly intense man with a perpetual blue stubble, an easy smile and a frame of reference that does not include much apart from pre-1976 Beirut or contemporary White Settlement Road.
If you tell him that his life, at this point, is like something out of ” The Sound Of Music,” Hedary will shrug and offer you a frosty maamool. Yet the parallel is an obvious one.
The singing Von Trapp brood (who inspired the musical) fled Austria to avoid the horrors of World War II. Antoine and Leila Hedary took their nine children out of Lebanon a year ago this month to escape the civil war which only recently ended there.
Antoine and Leila don’t line up the kids to sing “Do-Re-Mi,” but anyone who ingested a mutabal or kibby prepared by a Hedary hand will tell you it beats Julie Andrews run across a meadow.
The Hedarys make their music in the kitchen of a spartan restaurant sandwiched between a body shop and a patio firm at 2825 White Settlement. The location–smack in the middle of Auto Row–is a logical one for international cuisine. At lunchtime on a given week-day, you’re apt to see German mechanics dipping hoomis with chicano body shop workers, Hungarian importers and parts chasers from mesquite.
THE SIGN OUTSIDE says “Hedary’s Lebnese Pizza,” but Antoine’s regulars pay no attentionto the word “pizza.”
It got there because when hedary opened his restaurant a half-year ago and arranged to have a telephone installed, his understanding of American culinary culture was less then vast. He began to wonder if “pizza” wasn’t Texas slang for “restautant.”
“Phone company ask me how phone is to be listed,” Antoine explains in a brisk Arabic-accented clip which has no room for articles and other nuances of grammar.
“I answer quick. I tell them “Lebanese Pizza”. Now maybe i say it should be Restaurant not pizza,”
The marquee was different back in Lebanon, where the Hedary family operated a 200-seat restaurant overlooking Beirut. When the Moslem-Christian fighting became fierce, Antoine decided to walk away from his business.
“I realize my chidren are learning to shoot M-16 rifles, so I get them out so they can learn better things,” he says.
Hedary is glad the fighting has ended, and he urges patrons to vacation in Lebanon. “It is paradise of the world,” he says, citing a climate temperature particularly appealing to Americans this winter.
Lebanon, English majors will recall, is Khalil Gibran Country, There’s a touch of the poet in most Lebanese, and lyrical cadence whenever he speaks about meaningful things like his native country, his beliefs or his craft.
Were his customers and friends back home Christian or Moslem?
“They were PEOPLE,” he answers with an incredulous look and a that palms-up shrug. “I am Christian. but if you want to be Muslim, then you be one. You’re still my friend, and you eat my food.”
If the menu at Hedary’s seems like Greek to you, that cliche may not be far off the culinary bullseye. “Many of these dishes resemble Greek cuisine.” said Mike Kelly, A city health official whose heritage and palate span several ethnic frontiers. ” The chief difference, aside from numerous subtleties of cooking, is that the Lebanese use all-spice.”
Kelly discovered Hedary’s when a health inspector needed help explaining the regulations to the proprietor.
“Between my Greek, his French and our Spanish, Antoine and I were able to communicate,” Kelly said, He remembers the first day he walked into the place.
“In the kitchen there was a beautiful sight. I found the 14-year old washing dishes, the 6-year old mopping a floor that was already spotles, the 18-year-old putting an air-conditioner and the 10-year old trying tout glasses on a shelf she couldn’t reach. The smaller children were scrubbing metal with steel wool.”
Of the nine Hedary offspring, all but 4-year-old Clara and 2-year-old Lilian work regularly in the family restaurant, The after-school detail, usually ramrodded by by the 18-year-old Youssef, is apt to include any three or four of the following: George,16; Fani, 14; Marios, 12; Christine, 10; Marise, 8; and a 6-year-old Franco, whose ambition is to become a six million dollar man.
THE IDEAL WAY to discover the place several times and order something different each trip. Some folks require a gustatorial road map, however. So here are some of the basics, all of which are delicious and most of which are pronounce phonetically:
*KIBBY– The meatball’s Lebanese cousin has double-grounded beef with pinyon nuts inside pan-baked in olive oil.
*KAFTA– Ground meat with parsley and seasoning baked in olive oil.
*Bastourma–Raw meat hung up for 15 days and “cooked” by spices imported from the Middle East.
*HOOMIS– A dip of pureed garbanzos (chick-peas), crushed sesame seed paste, garlic lemon juice and parsley.
*TABULI–Finely chopped parsley, tomatoe, onion, cracked wheat and olive oil. Usually served with large romaine lettuce leaf which the vLebanese use as an edible spoon.
*MUTABAL–Baked eggplant peeled and mashed with lemon juice and garlic to form a dip similar to hoomis. Some Lebanese call this dish baba Ganoush.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven daysa week. The service is medium-speedy, depending on when you go in, and the highest price entree is $2.50. This works out to be a particular bargain because the food is filling and the portions are generous. If you and your date are light eaters, you can split a main dish and get a salad or dip a piece.
Beer, wine, soft drinks and Arab coffee are served.
The first taste of Lebanese food brings curious responses from some initiates, but almost all of them like it.
“This looks a little like lomi-lomi salmom,” said Diane Kuraoka, a Hawaii-born health department technician as she toyed with a dish of hoomis. She risked a taste, devoured the hoomis approvingly and left with visions of Lebanese luaus.
Not surprisingly, many members of the Metroplex’s sizeable Arab community were in the vanguard of Hedary’s clientele. Among the regulars are Fort Worth opera official Bill Massad, Majestic liquor executive Henry Elkouri and developer George Mallick–all Fort Worth residents of lebanese descent.
To these man. Hedary’s is hardly exotic, Elkouri, whose
favorite conversation-al gambit is shifting rapidly between Arabic and Oklahomic, summed it up rather succinctly over a bowl of Antoine’s tabuli the other afternoon.
He scooped a teaspoon of the mixture in a piece of romaine leaf, sniffed the bouquet as if it were one of his prize clarets, and lovingly chewed the bite.
“Btaamol ahkel mutl amme,” he announced to a beaming Antoine Hedary, then translated to a puzzled lunch n companion:
“Just like Mama used to make.”