A few weekends ago, our little crew ventured out a little farther from home than usual to hike the gorgeous Beaudry Loop trail in the Verdugo Hills. After victoriously completing the close-to-6-mile trail with TreasureLA, we headed down the hill to Glendale, home to one of the largest populations of Armenians in the U.S., to reward ourselves with a well-earned Middle Eastern Feast at Carousel. The "grand location" of Carousel has been serving bites of home to the Middle Eastern population of Glendale since 1998, but the owners have been dishing it out for almost 30 years.
As we entered the cavernous and mostly empty restaurant for lunch, we because acutely aware of our bedraggled state - in the back half of the dining area, a large private event of some sort featured well-dressed young ladies demurely nibbling on their lunches. Despite our sweaty, dusty appearances, the service staff was nothing but friendly, enthusiastic and helpful (although we were seated as far away as possible from that party in the back...).
Once we had all gulped down a pitcher or two of water, I felt sufficiently recovered to order a Lebanese beer, the Almaza Pilsner, which was fine but had nothing to distinguish it from your typical American macrobrew Pilsner. As we haggled over which dishes to order, we noshed on the complimentary olives, flatbread and pickled radishes (one of my favorite items of the meal - slightly sour and vinegary with a crisp crunch).
We quickly agreed on an order of hummus, a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic, with which most Americans are initimately familiar. After all, what's a Middle Eastern meal without hummus? Carousel's version was pretty decent, though basic. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have saved the stomach space for something more adventurous.
Once we had locked down the hummus, we treated ourselves to a parade of mezzas (small plates). First up was one of Mark's selections, the kellaj - Lebanese halloumi cheese, layered in a pita with tomatoes, mint, peppers and a drizzle of olive oil and grilled. Unlike the meaty Greek version of the cheese, the Lebanese halloumi came completely melted between the warm, soft pita, like a Middle Eastern version of a quesadilla.
The table had mixed reactions to the maaneh (below) - Lebanese sausages sauteed and served in a lemon sauce. On one hand, the interesting and uniquely Middle Eastern spices captured within the meaty links set them aside from your run-of-the-mill sausages. On the other hand, the redolence of cloves and other spices more typically found in sweet dishes was unexpected and a little off-putting for some at the table.
When the soujuk b'jeben (below) hit our table, our server was momentarily confused - was this the kellaj again? Competely understandable - the two dishes are very similar. But this time, our carb envelopes (here, thinner, crispy flatbread as opposed to fluffy pita) included not only tangy cheese but tasty bits of housemade soujuk, a semi-dry, spicy Armenian sausage.
One of the favorites of the meal was a dish I had been skeptical about ordering, the jhawaneh provencial (below) - pan fried chicken drumettes, sauteed with lemon juice, garlic and cilantro. These little nuggets of juicy, dark meat chicken were perfectly fried and absolutely delicious soaked in the incredible lemony gravy covering the bottom of the plate. The gravy was so good that it even elevated the accompanying fries, which would have otherwise been fairly boring.
The chicken schwarma plate - shavings of marinated, flame-broiled chicken breast served with lettuce, tomato, tahini, garlic sauce and hummus dip - was pretty good, although the chicken was a little on the dry side. The schwarma was served with an additional side of spicy, red flatbread and a delightfully potent helping of snow-white, Lebanese garlic sauce for dipping.
For thoroughness' sake, we took a break from the meats to sample one of the vegetarian options. The mousakka (below), a Middle Eastern favorite made with eggplants, onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, and peppers, was hearty and solidly executed.
I would have loved to have sampled some of the dessert items, but at this point in the meal, I was uncomfortably full, as were my guys. Even without the sweets, though, the meal reminded me how much I enjoy Middle Eastern food, and inspired me to revisit the cuisine in my kitchen at home. Thinking about the good (reasonably priced) food and great service, I can understand how Carousel has become a Glendale staple, and I could definitely be convinced to come back.