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Labor of Love

Find Middle Eastern flavors and warmth at Laziz Kitchen.

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Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity—his partner in business and life—will forever be associated with the landmark Kitchen v. Herbert case, which successfully challenged Utah's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. As important as the case was, my guess is that the unassuming pair would probably prefer to be known for their from-scratch business, Laziz Kitchen, than for any renown resulting from their place in legal history.

I refer to Kitchen and Sbeity's enterprise as "from-scratch" because what is now a full-blown Middle Eastern restaurant grew from humble beginnings. In 2012, the couple founded Laziz and began selling homemade hummus at the Downtown Farmers Market, before adding items like muhammara and toum to the menu. Kitchen—who grew up in South Jordan—probably didn't have a lot of Middle Eastern flavor in his upbringing. But Sbeity did. He's from Beirut, Lebanon, and moved to Utah for college in 2006. The partnership between Sbeity and Kitchen has yielded wonderful results, on all sorts of levels.

The fellas sure picked an appropriate name for their business. Laziz in Arabic means "tasty, enjoyable and lighthearted," according to their website. And the restaurant is all those things and more. The airy, inviting space is done in mostly white and cream, with splashes of green and copper/brown colored seating. It's a comfortable, independent restaurant that looks like a million bucks. Off to one side is a small market where guests can purchase items, including packaged spices like za'atar (to which I've become addicted), Middle Eastern grains, oils, flavored molasses and their signature "Hummusexual" T-shirts.

With so many enticing small plates, salads, wraps and (at dinner time) entrées on the menu, it's hard to know where to begin. Know this though: Muhammara ($8) is a must. This red-pepper spread/dip originated in Syria, and is made from roasted Aleppo peppers, ground and chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses, served—not inconsequentially—with the best pita bread you're going to encounter in this town. The pita is made in-house from scratch and is light, airy and positively delicious. Another way to enjoy it is to order the grilled halloumi cheese ($8). It's an open-faced cheese sandwich with melted, soft cheese, a sprinkling of tomato, sesame seeds, mint leave and olives.

The large selection of non-meat menu items will certainly make vegetarians happy, but for meat eaters I highly recommend the kibbeh ($7). This small-plate offering is a pair of fried kibbeh balls made with ground beef, walnuts, Middle Eastern spices and burghul (aka cracked wheat) served with pickles, tomatoes and tahini-based tarator sauce. Additional can't-miss small plates include grape leaves stuffed with rice, walnuts, parsley and tomato ($6); baba ganoush ($7); fried cauliflower florets with cumin, parsley and tarator-tahini ($6); and of course, the heavenly hummus ($6) that started it all, served with fresh pita and lettuce. I recommend living large and springing an extra $3 to add on ground beef and pine nuts.

In addition to unique drinks like Arabic coffee, jallab (sparkling date and grape drink) and grenadine rose syrup served over ice, Laziz offers a small, but adequate beer and wine selection. Included on the wine list are a couple from Lebanon: Chateau Ksara Reserve Du Couvent red wine and Massaya Blanc. During a nighttime visit, we enjoyed the Massaya Blanc ($40/bottle; $8/glass). This lovely white wine is made with mostly Obeidi and Clairette grapes from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, and its versatility allows it to work with dishes ranging from garlicky spiced labne or pepper tajen, which is topped with fried onions—to heftier items like maghmour (chickpeas, fried eggplant, mint-and-garlic pesto and vermicelli rice) and kafta bil seney beef patties.

Since Laziz Kitchen opens at 9 a.m., you might drop in for a tomato or spinach omelet ($12), or perhaps shakshouka: two scrambled eggs with green peppers, mint, garlic and onion ($12). There are also a couple of breakfast/lunch platters to enjoy. The kafta platter ($13) features grilled beef skewers with rice or quinoa, pita, pickles, hummus, salad and toum garlic sauce. Or, enjoy grilled chicken skewers with the same accoutrements.

Recently, the restaurant launched dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays, and the plan is to expand to additional weeknights soon. At first glance, I thought there must be a mistake. Dinner portions are very generous and yet all of them are priced at $20 or less. These days, that's a bargain. A plate of djeij and reiz (chicken and rice) was extraordinary. Though chicken and rice might sound ordinary, this was Mary's organic chicken breast (an airline cut) seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and sumac, served on nutty tasting rice pilaf ($20). Samak tajen ($20) is a large, flaky cod fillet that's grilled and finished with lemon, cumin, tajen sauce, caramelized onions and pine nuts. It, too, was heavenly. Other dinner items include cauliflower stew ($13) and beef patties with vermicelli rice called kafta bil sanieh ($15). Should you be lucky enough to spot beef bazella on the menu, go for it. It's what Sbeity called a "really homey stew" that incorporates peas, carrots, cinnamon and cumin in a tomato base.

I'd be remiss if I didn't remark on the superb service. Servers like Bruni and Annie deftly combine a comforting informality with precise professionalism. Service is friendly, but also quite informative, and the entire staff seems to have an excellent command of the exotic menu and wines. Laziz Kitchen strikes me as nothing less than a labor of love.

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