Lebanese wonder

Abu’s Cafe & Grill

1346 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825

There’s one delightful surprise after another at Abu’s Cafe & Grill. Not the least of them is Sarah, the sunny and solicitous owner of a winning smile, who also happens to be the daughter of one of the owners.

Linoleum in a tar-and-Lysol comfit accompanied by a side of Snarol would seem divine if brought to the table by Sarah, who lingers and chats without ever being intrusive. She expresses surprise I’m eating at the restaurant rather than taking out. Lebanon, the inspiration for many of Abu’s offerings, and its beauty, not surprisingly, is a topic of discussion.

Another surprise is that the former home of Jasper’s Giant Hamburgers on Fulton Avenue and Hurley Way seems so spacious despite its dark-red brick walls. Jasper’s always felt a bit close, perhaps because the burgers were so enormous. That tradition lives on in Abu’s Giant Burger, which is centered around two accurately described “massive” half-pound patties.

A large dark wood buffet displays a wide selection of hookahs, which leads to another surprise: the number of flavored tobaccos that can be burned therein. Abu’s offers 30 varieties, several rather promiscuously themed: French Kiss, Before Sex, After Sex, Exotic Sex, Sex on the Beach and Exotic Buzz. Are they smoked in order? Exotic Buzz then French Kiss followed by Exotic Sex on the Beach and, finally, a warm bask of After Sex? Who knew tobacco could be so sensual? All I ever got was a nasty hack and black phlegm.

A better surprise is the caliber and quantity of Abu’s servings, which are made to order, so prepare to wait a bit. The wait is eased by the surprise delivery of a trio of tempting sauces in a white triple-troughed tray: hummus in the center, flanked by tahini and baba ghanouj. All offer a tasty tango for the tongue.

Another visit, the baba ghanouj is replaced with foule, which is anything but. The fava, garbanzo, lemon juice and olive oil combo tastes a bit like refried beans.

A full appetizer order of it can feed an army of ravenous pita eaters. Overdoing on appetizers can be an issue, given the surprising size of Abu’s entrees. The mixed grill, topping out the menu at $14.95, is, as the menu says, a meal “made for a King.” Yeah, a king of great girth and gluttonous appetite. Like the dipping sauces, this is a triple threat—chicken kebob skewer, beef skewer and kufta, sausages-on-a-stick of sumac-spiced ground lamb and beef. A wide swath of the large oval platter is covered with buttery rice, studded with a line of half cherry tomatoes.

On the less epically proportioned kufta platter, a line of grilled vegetables—red onion, bell pepper, et al.—forms the spine of the rice mountain.

Three other singular surprises stand out. One is the greenish hot sauce resulting from the chef’s first attempt at creating one. Sarah is a bit vague on the ingredients—some chilies, spices and tomatoes. Whether an old Middle Eastern recipe or not, it complements everything on the plate except the salad of chopped red and white onion, cucumber, carrot shreds and tomatoes.

The house soup, also featuring a strong show of sumac, is ruthlessly addictive. There’s also ground beef, garbanzo beans, orzo and some parsley in a mahogany-colored broth, whose tomato base is largely masked by the amalgam of contents. Complimenting the soup to Sarah’s mother prompts her to surprise me by sending home a sample of lentil soup that isn’t on the menu. The color and consistency of poi, it appears, at first blush, to redefine bland for the new millennium. Wrong. Subtly spiced, it’s smoothly filling with a zippy afterburn.

A final surprise: The leprechaunlike monkey toking on a hookah, whose image is scattered through the restaurant, does share the same name and bear some resemblance to Aladdin’s sidekick in the Disney flick of the same name. Actually, it’s an inside joke. Kamal Aboueljoud supervises Abu’s day-to-day operations.