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Family restaurant Manakeesh and More gets 7 plates

Manakeesh and More is the latest family-run spot to open on a stretch of Hertel Avenue alive with Middle Eastern restaurants and groceries. ¶ Inside, it’s clean but sparse, with a few tables and a television showing soap operas in their original Arabic. Owner Sami Amin said he’s Palestinian and has 15 years of restaurant experience in Jerusalem. ¶ It shows. Manakeesh is offering excellent values in Middle Eastern light dinners, snacking and sandwiches. ¶ Service can be slow, and the place can get smoky when meat hits the grill. The decor does nothing for me. But when the plates started arriving and I tucked in, none of that mattered much.

Amin said he’ll offer his own fresh-baked pita bread when his oven is fixed. Right now, the fresh-baked star is manakeesh, a topped flatbread that’s baked to order ($2.99 each). Toppings include fragrant za’atar, a forest-green mixture of thyme, sesame and tangy sumac; feta cheese, parsley and oregano; and ground beef spiced with allspice, tomato and other flavors. Each is tasty in its own way, with ample toppings on crunchy-rimmed bread.

There are two stuffed pies, hefty turnovers for $2.99. The spinach version is filled with tangy, slightly fruity sumac-tinged onions, still juicy, with spinach a second ingredient; the meat one has the spiced ground beef filling. Pretty good deal.

In the appetizer plates, the deals get even better: falafel are $2.49 for five. Chickpea hummus and roasted eggplant babaganoush spreads are $2.99 each, with accompanying pita bread.

The falafel thrilled me. Light, aromatic and fluffy in a sternly browned shell, they reminded me of eating in Jerusalem a long time ago. Tablemates, not as stirred as I was, pronounced the falafel decent.

The hummus was bean-forward, without lashings of garlic or lemon. The babaganoush was alluringly smoky. The eggplant had been mashed, not pureed, so it kept some of its texture. Amin said he roasts his own eggplant instead of using canned product.

Feathery light tabbouleh ($3.99) had more parsley and scallion than tomato and bulgur wheat. Like the other salads and kababs, you can check it out in a refrigerated display case. Once it became clear how much food we were ordering, our server threw in a plate of sliced tomatoes, olives and pickles.

We tried foul ($2.99), fava bean soup tarted up with lemon, cumin and garlic, a stick-to-your-ribs vegetarian bowl for a cold day. Speaking of which: Every vegetarian and vegan in the neighborhood should have this place on speed-dial. From falafel to foul, from tabbouleh to za’atar manakeesh, it’s a meatless, dairyless wonderland.

The meat-eaters can have their day, too. Manakeesh offers halal pizza, regular Buffalonian pizza with ingredients that meet Islamic dietary regulations, like ground beef and chicken. I didn’t try it.

What I focused on were the kabab plates, which come in chicken ($5.99) and lamb ($6.99). Both of these ridiculous values contain two skewers of meat, two sampler-sized helpings of sides like babaganoush or tabbouleh, and grilled vegetables, including onions, tomatoes and bell peppers and sliced lemon and cucumber, all artfully arranged, then covered with a piece of pita bread.

Amin referred to the chicken version as shish tawouk: marinated chicken that’s grilled and served with garlic sauce. It was reasonably moist and tender, and the pungent garlic schmear perked it up considerably.

The lamb number was seasoned ground lamb, cooked well – that is, charred in spots but still juicy inside. Considering the sides, grilled vegetables and bread, one of the better $7 plates in town. Our dining companions Doug and Luci especially praised the kabab plates’ value and “thoughtful presentations,” as well as the za’atar manakeesh.

Dessert? Try a piece of sturdy but serviceable baklava – sticky, flaky, nutty – for $1.

That’s as far as the menu goes. It’s a little family place, with a little family menu, nothing fancy. But if you’ve been hankering for good Middle Eastern standards in a restaurant where you dollar goes farther than you expected, I commend Manakeesh to your attention.

Manakeesh and More

Outstanding values in Middle Eastern favorites from Palestinian family’s small bakery.

WHERE: 1150 Hertel Ave. (348-7184).

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days.

PRICE RANGE: Manakeesh, stuffed pies $2.99; appetizer plates, $2.99-$3.99; kabab plates, $5.99-$6.99.

PARKING: Street.