Above: A basket of Sultan's bread
I’m not going to pretend I discovered Sultan’s. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story about what I discovered at Sultan’s on Monday night: how to convert a doubter into someone who loves Middle Eastern food.
My boon companion Captain Carnivore and I have eaten at Sultan’s many times over the years, always in a large family group. Over the years this family group has involved infants, toddlers, the odd hard-of-hearing grandparent, and a great deal of commotion. I never had the chance to have a “so what are you getting” kind of conversation with The Captain, and I can’t say I noticed what he ordered. He was never enthusiastic about Mediterranean cuisine when we picked a place for eating out or ordering in, and I came to assume he didn’t like it.
Above: Sultan's interior
Monday night, we went to Sultan’s à deux for the first time in twenty years of marriage. I have always loved the dining room, which is large and filled with a variety of booths and tables sized to hold anything from a family of ten to a couple on a date. The host led us past the cases of baklava and hummus to go, past a view of the kitchen, to a booth that clearly said “couple on a date.”
Out came the bread. If you are familiar with the flat packets of sliced pita that are standard at some Middle Eastern restaurants, let me say that this is not that. The bread at Sultan’s is leavened, and served hot from the oven. (I know people who go just for the bread.) We ordered hummus to go with it, and swept up great swaths of the well-seasoned and silky stuff with hunks of warm bread, stopping only to divvy up the olives on the plate.
For main courses, I chose the Chicken Shwarma, with vegetables instead of rice, and The Captain chose the Combo for One, which includes “Shish Kafta, Chicken Kabob, Beef Kabob, Falafel, Grape Leaves and fried Kibbie all on one plate.” The first part of the ordering went splendidly; I convinced The Captain to order the Crushed Lentil Soup with his meal, and was feeling very smug about getting him to try the gateway drug when I remembered something.
“Is your kibbie made from lamb?” I asked the waiter, a gentleman who has been working at Sultan’s every time I have been there over the years.
“Yes,” he answered. “There is lamb also in the grape leaves.” He looked at The Captain inquiringly. “You don’t like lamb?”
He does not like lamb.
“We will fix this,” said our waiter. “Instead of kibbie and grape leaves I’ll bring you more of the beef. Okay?” That seemed like a good plan, and a generous one. It also seemed to both of us like really good customer service.
The lentil soup came, savory and rich with rice. I have seen this soup devoured eagerly by small children who would sooner die than eat soup with visible lentils in it. It is the epitome of comfort food. “Do you like this?” I asked The Captain. He nodded, unwilling to stop eating it long enough to answer verbally.
Our entrees arrived promptly, and, as promised, extra beef replaced the lamb-based items. I tucked in to my Shwarma, morsels of flavorful, marinated chicken alongside a mountain of steamed green beans, carrots, cauliflower, squash and broccoli. “Eat the falafel while it’s hot,” I suggested.
“Which one is the falafel?” asked The Captain. That was when I knew I could move in for the kill, complete the conversion, and be assured of many more plates of shwarma in my life.
“That hot, crispy round thing right there,” I answered, pointing. “Dip it in a little of that garlic sauce. It’s nice and bite-y.” He did.
“Oh my God” he said. And there it was.
Above: The Captain's lamb-less Combo for One
If you’d like to check out Sultan’s for yourself, you’ll find it at 4790 South Hagadorn Road, in the Hannah Center Plaza. It is a very child-friendly space, and there are many menu choices that should let you feed the pickiest little person, including a menu of fresh-squeezed juices and juice combos like the “S.B.A.,” a mix of strawberry, banana and apple. (They do not serve alcohol.)
It’s also a solid choice if you like to eat healthy, and/or if you’re vegetarian or vegan. There are many gluten-free choices as well.