The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

June 8, 2014

Lavash: Mediterranean made fresh

BECKLEY — The term “Mediterranean” can apply to many things — cruises, shades of blue, styles of decorating and diets. In terms of one of Beckley’s newest restaurants, Lavash, the concept is an encapsulating reference to regions of flavor.

According to manager Lara Hibbs, friends and partner restaurateurs Mohamed Farghaly and Karim Masoud shared a desire to represent the diversity of the Mediterranean Sea in taste, telling a palatable tale from each distinctive shore with creamy pastitsio from Greece, chicken shwarma wrap from the Middle East and satisfying caprese salad from Italy — to name just a few chapters.

With a singular mission to prove to the masses that Mediterranean does not mean curried or spicy, Hibbs describes why the restaurant she’s now managing is as appealing to those who consider burgers and fries the ideal meal as it is to those who remember kanafeh from the kitchens in their homeland.

“Our clientele is completely 50/50. They’re either originally from the Mediterranean region now living in West Virginia or traveling through, or they’re just people who are from here and like the food.”

From those who hail from the Middle East particularly, it isn’t uncommon for Hibbs to hear, “This is home cooking … just like my mom made.”

Though homespun with influence from 7,000 miles away, what Mediterranean means at Lavash (named after a type of Armenian flatbread) will elicit appreciation for the effort put into taste. Diners won’t find the fried mozzarella appetizer in stick form — because it can’t be convincingly cut that way by hand from balls of fresh cheese.

“That’s why they’re in circles,” says Hibbs. “They were cut and hand-breaded that day.”

Kids are in luck, too — the chicken fingers are also hand-cut and hand-breaded to order.

Diehard burger lovers, too, are in for a splurge stopping in Lavash for their signature sandwich, the Lavash Burger — a full 1/2 pound of beef seasoned with Mediterranean herbs and spices.

But the mozzarella sticks, chicken strips and burgers aren’t why most customers seek Lavash to appease their appetites. More likely, they’re eyeing the shish kebab sampler of chicken, kefta and marinated beef, the stuffed grape leaves or the traditional Greek trinity of phyllo, spinach and feta in the spanakopita pie. Anything unlikely to be replicated in their own kitchens and that will transport their tastebuds to a place far beyond Beckley is their desire.

New to the restaurant

business but not to business, Hibbs, a Florida native, moved to Beckley nine years ago and has, along with her husband, proved successful as an entrepreneur.

Her friends Farghaly and Masoud sought her professionalism in helping them realize their newest venture, although they, too, have operated other successful businesses, including two restaurants.

Hibbs’ ability to perfectly recall what guests ordered at their last visit is compounded by her passion for the food served at Lavash. It’s an experience she’s glad she said “yes” to.

“We need this — we need diversity in Beckley. Before Lavash, there was nowhere near for people to taste Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food,” Hibbs states.

Nearly always on the premises, she can also attest to the chefs’ dedication to freshness.

“Nothing in this restaurant comes out of a box or can or package. Chef Mo Mansour stops in the middle of the day to prepare dinner service. We have people who come in the morning to have everything prepared fresh for lunch. If we run out of something, it’s literally because we did not make enough for that day.”

Farghaly and Masoud, also proficient in preparing Mediterranean cuisine, are hands-on owners, contributing their cooking talents to supplement Mansour’s.

Good food is only part of the equation — atmosphere and customer service are two additional variables to restaurant success. Interior designer Meg Rader helped to upscale the Lavash look, but the cuisine keeps her coming back.

“(Lavash) is for people who want great taste and fresh, fresh food. The servings are generous and the prices are very reasonable by any standard,” Rader comments.

She assisted with an airlocked entry and reception away from guests to offer a more private experience.

“The whole interior was rebuilt and designed for a more cosmopolitan look,” she says.

Hibbs’ approach to customer service adds to the atmosphere; guests are taking note of the staff’s attentiveness and availability.

“I’m face-to-face with everybody; if something goes wrong, I’m here to fix it on the spot,” Hibbs states, equating the running of a restaurant with producing a Broadway show, where all characters are “ON,” seeking the best possible performance and enough applause to merit an encore.

What best to top off a stellar dining experience than a bit of dessert? Besides tiramisu (Lavash has that, too) what do Mediterranids do for dessert? “Try the kanafeh,” suggests Hibbs, “or the baklava — people love them both.”

Lavash is located at 3144 Robert C. Byrd Drive, Beckley. Visit lavashbeckley.com for complete menu.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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