By Rina Rapuano
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012
The beige strip-mall carryouts of the 'burbs have a reputation for serving mediocre food. But folks with a nose for good eats have long dismissed that notion, knowing that lovingly tended meals and beguiling dining rooms can be found in unlikely spots.
Such is the case with Zeitoon Mediterranean Grill & Brick Oven Pizza, opened by Sterling resident Amine Fettar, 37, and his wife, Yanick, 52, in early September. Here, robin's-egg-blue and mint-green walls and beautifully upholstered chairs and booths make a nice orbit around their sun: a domed wood- and gas-burning oven imported from Italy and covered in custom-made iridescent tiles. It's a work of art that makes waiting for takeout a pleasure, as did the snazzy jazz piped into the dining room and a complimentary soda.
The Moroccan-born Fettar and his wife, who has a Haitian background, honed their restaurant-running skills as regional management trainers for Chipotle. As for cooking, Fettar admits to no formal training. "My mom is a great cook," he says. "Growing up, when we had big parties at home, I would help her."
Zeitoon means "olive" in Arabic, and that hints at the pan-Mediterranean menu, which Fettar keeps tight to "focus on the integrity of each dish."
Eight-inch pizzas from that pretty oven are oblong - Fettar was inspired by the shape of the plates he serves them on - and crisp-crusted: the "margarita" (eight-inch, $8.99; 12-inch, $11.99; 16-inch, $15.99) topped with wonderfully fresh tomatoes, assertive basil, three cheeses and a flavorful house-made sauce.
"More African than Middle Eastern" is how Fettar describes his appetizers of light, crisp falafel ($4.50 for five pieces), served with a tahini dip; those and the battered half-moons of eggplant ($4.50 per order) offered with house-made tomato sauce are both expertly fried. But we especially love the kufta kebab meal ($9.95): four nuggets of minced halal beef grilled and served over basmati rice with a kebab of vegetables, plus pita and tzatziki. Our takeout order was prepared quickly and with smiles. The kebab and pizza predictably fared better on the long ride home than the fried eggplant and falafel.
Although Fettar originally had no plans to expand the menu, he says, customers clamored for Moroccan fare. He now makes Moroccan mint tea and plans to add traditional couscous dishes, harira soup and briwat, which he describes as a sort of Moroccan spring roll, filled with vermicelli and vegetables.
"Moroccan food is very famous," he says. "And many people that visited Morocco or have Moroccan friends, they get hooked for life."