Takeout dining review: Fight the pantry blues with fresh, flavorful Lavash Cafe
Have you contracted the “bean-and-pasta belly” yet? This condition, which I have self-diagnosed, occurs when the sufferer becomes tired of eating stuck-at-home meals assembled with boxed and canned ingredients from the pantry. If that syndrome sounds familiar, the fresh, flavorful and healthful-leaning Mediterranean fare cooked from scratch at Lavash Cafe can serve as a restorative tonic.
Lavash has been a Clintonville favorite for more than a decade, but its roots extend back to the 1980s, when owner Nasir Latif founded trailblazing Firdous. Before Firdous, dishes that locals now take for granted such as hummus, shawarma, falafel and tabbouleh were much harder to find in Central Ohio.
If the number of cars pulling up to receive curbside delivery from Lavash servers wearing masks and gloves lately is any indication, I’d say the establishment stands a good chance of weathering the coronavirus storm threatening the survival of myriad independent restaurants. One thing is certain: Nasir Latif can still provide the community with a vibrant, crowd-pleasing cuisine.
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Currently, ordering is performed online from a pared-down menu of greatest hits. Expect to be quoted a 20-minute wait time and to find temporary parking in front of the restaurant. Customers confirm their arrival by calling Lavash, after which a server will ferry out food, most of which will be in plastic containers.
That order should include Kibbeh ($6): two little footballs of crunchy, fried, cracked-wheat shells packed with fragrant ground beef and pine nuts and partnered with house-made yogurt. The wonderful snacks are a winning match with Lavash’s pulpy, peppery and nuanced Lentil Soup ($4), which offers mild curry-like flavors.
The Shawarma Sandwiches ($8) might offer the best bang for your buck. Whether you request the chicken version with its pungent garlic sauce or the lamb-and-beef combo with its standard tahini-and-lemon sauce — and whether you have either rolled in pita or in smoother-and-thinner lavash bread — you’re going to enjoy a terrific sandwich of aromatically seasoned meat in a crinkly toasted flatbread garnished with romaine lettuce and tomatoes.
If you want fries with that, you’ll get good hand-cut spuds ($4). For added oomph, have them sprinkled with zatar ($1 extra) — an enticing herb-and-spice blend enriched with sesame seeds.
The Lavash Combo ($14) is listed as a vegetarian entree, but it makes a great shareable appetizer. Served with plenty of house-made bread (think puffy, thick and toasty pita), the combo is a triumvirate of champions: smooth, rich and creamy hummus judiciously leavened with lemon; refreshing tabbouleh boosted by lemon and a hint of mint; eight moderately spicy and great-tasting falafel balls that would’ve been even better had they been crisper.
Meat entrees star kebabs. At $16, these meals are relatively pricey, but they include house bread, a fresh little green salad (with golden Italian-style dressing on the side), a couple darkly grilled pepper knobs plus uncommonly flavorful yellow basmati rice that is far from an afterthought.
All of the kebabs I sampled were delicious, but the clean-tasting lamb pieces were easily the most tender and juicy. I also loved the flavor of the chicken kebabs, which tasted like they’d been brightened by sumac and perhaps lemon, but my poultry was uncharacteristically overcooked. The sausage-like spicy chicken kefta kebabs — the Middle Eastern answer to Mexican chorizo — might’ve been my favorite had they not been, likewise uncharacteristically, a tad dry as well. Pro tip: $9.50 buys an extra kebab skewer of your choosing.
The desserts I tried were a wedge of first-rate Baklava ($2) — flaky layers of buttery phyllo pastry densely packed with toasted pistachios — and the Brownie Bottom Cheesecake ($4), an irresistible two-for-one composition. Both are delightful, sweetness-restrained treats that I will not be attempting to bake anytime soon using the ingredients still taking up space in my pantry.
2985 N. High St., Clintonville