Towson, Md’s new secret for authentic Middle Eastern food: Cedar Cafe’ Shop[classic article]

On a quiet, residential street in Towson, Maryland, in what probably used to be a house long ago, a new little cafe’ has sprung up as an oasis: Cedar Cafe’ Shop. In this little homey restaurant and grocery store, they serve fusion of several Middle Eastern and Mediterranean nations’ cuisine, with most of the items house-made. I was very glad to be hosted to experience it!

It really made my evening to be introduced to the beverage Ayran, a tangy, savory yogurt drink that you can get in mint or plain. Think buttermilk, not mint milkshake from the ice cream store. Next time, I will try Laziza, a non-alcoholic malt drink.

House-made pita chips with an extra-smooth hummus dip are brought out, with the pita chips accompanying several of the dishes. They’ve got their own special thing going on, served warm with sesame seeds, finely ground black pepper, mint and sea salt.

I never had borek before. “Mama Buthaina’s Borek” — named after the owner — is kind of like a crescent roll filled with a bit of ricotta and mozzarella cheese, seasoned with paprika, sea salt, poppy, mint and basil.

Their lamb soup is definitely “must order. It’s thick like a stew that meets up with barley porridge and has aromatic spices. It’s rich, with hunks of tangy lamb.

The yellow lentil soup has pureed lentils set into a more broth-like soup, simply seasoned with salt and pepper.

The lamb kabobs were beautifully seasoned and marinated, cooked to preference. They’re served with a tender jasmine rice mixed with a bit of vermicelli, not just boring, forgettable white rice. “Shish” is adding grilled veggies to your dish. I ordered grape leaves and tabouleh. Both are fresh, with their own unique recipes. They’re less lemony/salty than some you may have had in the past, showing that they’re not purchased from a mass producer.

Kibbeh shwarma is three ground beef and cracked wheat shells stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts and onion, seasoned with Mediterranean spices. They’re fried, for a crispy outside, tender inside. They’ve got a good savory flavor.

Two of their desserts are made in-house, both worth exploring! Their rice pudding is made with Egyptian rice, milk, rose water, cinnamon and ground pistachios. Kunafeh is truly exceptional: a home-made dessert from shredded phyllo dough and sweet, chewy cheese, semolina, tumeric, cinnamon and ground pistachios. It’s served with a little side pitcher of simple syrup. The dish is one of those that could go well for savory times without the syrup, but magically becomes dessert-like with it.

I’m looking forward to checking out their buffet on Friday nights from 5-8, $11. It has things that don’t appear on the menu from exotic locales: Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia.

They’re on the corner of Burke Avenue and Hillen.

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