|Robert Rahal and Joe Marino|
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But there’s even more. A deli section is being developed, and a banquet hall will be opened later in the year. There’s also a space near the front of the building that brings it full-circle, in a way: This is his jewelry store, which is the business with which he first greeted Albany. Robert’s Fine Jewelry also had a Central Avenue storefront; now they will be combined.
The Phoenicians has Lebanese fare at its heart, reflecting the country in which Robert and his wife, Rindala, were born. But the relocated restaurant is revamping its menu to include a wider array of Mediterranean cuisines, especially Italian. And to help with that, chef Joe Marino has joined the kitchen.
Marino ran Carappoli’s Family Restaurant in Delmar and was chef-owner of Betty Boop’s Diner in Albany during its heyday. That’s where he proved himself a master of the breakfast menu as well as a fine Italian-food chef, and both of those talents will be featured here.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
Although breakfast will be available every day, Saturdays and Sundays will feature a Mediterranean-American brunch from 11-3.
There’s a type of meatloaf unique to the Middle East, known variously as gyro or doner kebab. In Lebanon, it’s shawarma, and, as Robert points out, there’s a lot of bad shawarma out there. “Don’t be fooled by the imitations,” he says, noting that what’s often passed for shawarma is in fact a frozen patty. “I was the original shawarma person in the area.”
You’ll see the two vertical rotisserie units as you explore the new space, rotisseries on which the component shawarma meats slow-cook for many hours. As Rindala, who is the chef for the Lebanese items, explains, “We inherited shawarma from Turkey. It supposedly goes back to the time of the Ottoman Empire, when a nobleman had to feed a huge family gathering and wanted to come up with one good dish that would satisfy everyone. He put meat on a horizontal skewer and invented the kebab. After many years, someone turned the skewer vertical, and it produced a different flavor.”
A horizontal skewer of meat drips much of its fat away. When it roasts vertically, the fat drips into the meat throughout the cooking process. Even before Rindala assembles the meat, it’s marinated for a few days in a tangy Lebanese Seven-Spice Blend.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
The falafel here is a little different, explains Rindala, “because in the part of Lebanon I come from, it’s made with both chickpeas and fava beans, which gives it a smoother consistency.” Garlic and onions also are components, but this is one of the few Lebanese dishes she prepares without the all seven of the seven spices. “I put in a lot of coriander, some cumin, and black and white pepper.”
The sense of inclusiveness that the Phoenicians is cultivating is quite deliberate, a salute, says Robert, to the support he has received from his adopted home – he got out of Lebanon during a particularly bad period of strife – as he settled here to run his businesses and raise his family. “Everyone is welcome here,” he says, “and I’m sure you’ll find something here to enjoy.”
The Phoenicians, 71 Fuller Rd, Albany, 518-464-4444, phoeniciansofalbany.com. Serving breakfast daily from 8-2, brunch Sat-Sun 11-3, lunch daily 11-3, dinner daily 4-10.
– The Alt, 21 February 2017