Downtown Royal Oak's new Gemmayze Lebanese Kitchen and Lounge wasn't intended to be your grandfather's kind of Lebanese restaurant, says co-owner Elias Hajjar, 30, who opened the chic new spot in early May with his cousin, Nicholas Aubrey, 31.
"We wanted to create not only a menu that exemplified what's happening in Beirut and Lebanon right now, but we wanted to re-create the atmosphere. So the colors on the walls and ceiling are light and very clean and refreshing, and the menu reflects that as well," says Hajjar.
Gemmayze (juh-MAYS-ee) is named after the artistic section of Beirut, where clubs and bars look surprisingly Western. The cousins visit Lebanon at least once a year to see their extended family, so they're attuned to modern Beirut.
Architect Ron Rea gave the new restaurant and its inviting bar a contemporary feel. And Hajjar -- who is Gemmayze's chef -- gave the menu a similarly modern personality.
The extensive list of mezze, or shareable small plates ($5-$13), ranges from the familiar hummus, baba ghanoush and baby lamb chops of every Middle Eastern restaurant to dishes more typical of Western menus, such as fried calamari, crab cakes and rare tuna -- here, encrusted with ground sumac and garnished with diced cucumber salad.
Other dishes seem new. "Our biggest challenge at this point is re-educating people about other great Lebanese items," such as ara-yes halabi -- house-made kufta stuffed inside pita dough and baked, he says.
There's a separate group of pizzas ($12). Entrées include filets and a New York strip steak, along with kabobs and lamb chops. Priced in the mid-teens to mid-$20s with two sides, entrées are large enough for two to share. The Gemmayze Experience meals, priced per person, are designed for groups.
Hajjar's food shows Italian and Greek influences, which he says reflects the way culinary styles blend in the Mediterranean. "We draw from the same influences; we share the same ingredients, he says.
His family has owned restaurants in Toledo for more than 30 years. Aubrey's family owns parking businesses in Detroit.
The cousins have wanted to open a place in metro Detroit for three years. "Royal Oak seemed like the perfect fit -- young, energetic, very high-traffic. And it seemed like it needed a good Lebanese restaurant that featured alcohol as well."
The bar menu is extensive and includes the family's signature sangria; it and all drinks are made with fresh ingredients, he says. (310 S. Main, 248-399-4900 and gemmayzemichigan.com)