Until a short time ago, if I were asked about my favorite ethnic food, I would have responded, “Italian”. I am a spaghetti-junky; with added meatballs and sausage, I am in food nirvana. A small family restaurant in a strip center in Tampa’s Westchase has made me revisit my opinions.
Fresh Bites is owned by Samir and Anissa Khalife and offers traditional Lebanese food made from organic produce and all-natural beef, lamb and chicken. The product is suburb. Ms Khalife and members of her family were in the restaurant on the occasions of our visits, attentive and so very eager to please.
The menu offers many dishes with which we were familiar from other middle-eastern restaurants; the obvious freshness of the food places it several notches above that we had experienced previously.
A warning: meals are prepared to order. Thus, one must be prepared to wait for the dish to appear. It is well worth the wait. Second, the prices are relatively high for Tampa, but acceptable.
On our first visit, my wife ordered the Vegetarian Platter ($11.29) which contained ample portions of Hummus, Baba Ghannouj, Tabouli, Mudardara and Grape leaves. For those unfamiliar with Mediterranean cuisine, hummus is a creamy dip of crushed chickpeas, tahini and a dash of lemon, drizzled by olive oil. Baba Ghannouj is a similar dish, but made of crushed roasted eggplant. Mudardara at Fresh Bites is a salad mixture of lentils, rice, greens and spices. Joan’s platter came before my choice and I freely partook of nibbles and pita bread. In return, I promised my Sweetie that I would share my bounty.
I enjoy veggies, but my heart – and stomach – prefers meat. I ordered the Lamb Kabab ($13.59). The grilled cubes of lamb, served off the skewer, were tender and delicious with just the right amount of spices. The lamb was accompanied by creamy white rice, a green salad with a lemon based and terrific dressing, mixed with hummus, and a portion of roasted veggies.
I had heard about the home-made desserts but we were too full to order them. However, we vowed to return and rectify the omission.
On our next visit, we tried different dishes. Starting with a shared Vegetarian Platter as an appetizer was a good idea, even if we had to bring home part of the meals for the next day. Joan ordered the Beef Shawarma ($11.99), made from beef that had been marinated and then thin sliced from a spit. We had been familiar with the meat from gyros at Tarpon Springs and this was similar. It was served with roasted vegetables and the salad I had enjoyed so much on a prior visit.
I had the Kebbeh ($11.29), a dish of roasted minced meat with wheat, onion and spices. It came with a cucumber yogurt salad and the ubiquitous roasted veggies. It was delicious but my preferences call for the cubes of meat in the Kebabs.
Again, much food was brought home for the next day.
And again, we had no room for dessert. Maybe next time we will start with dessert.