Lebnani House Brings Levantine Cuisine to Milwaukee

A meal at the new Middle Eastern outpost, Lebnani House, thrums with meaning.  

This is my second visit to Lebnani House, and a series of revelations – dishes I’ve never seen in another Middle Eastern restaurant in Milwaukee – has met my table. There’s a ceramic crock filled with a warm, dip-like melding of smoky, garlicky kashkaval cheese, chopped beef and eggplant – a resonantly savory creation from Lebanon, the cheese originating in Eastern Europe. From a basket, I snatch an oblong pocket of fresh, stone-oven-baked pita, slathering a tender hunk in the rich, supple sauce. Also on the table, a pan holds what could be a pizza of sorts, but it’s an Armenian flatbread spread with finely minced beef, parsley and onion mixed with a tomato-pomegranate molasses dressing that hints of allspice and curry. In another bowl is a piping-hot Palestinian creation that folds together crisp little squares of fried flatbread with chicken, toasted pine nuts and floral sumac in tangy strained yogurt. 

These are not just soulfully delicious, but also important shapers of our worldview. Hummus, falafel, tabbouleh – these are the dishes commonly identified with the Middle East, mostly because our lens has been limited. But Lebnani House elegantly showcases the lush, multi-faceted scope of Levantine cuisine, which encompasses Jordan, Palestine, Syria and other regions. One of the hallmarks of this cuisine is mezza – hot and cold appetizers – of which you will find many examples here that eclipse the standard hummus.  

Lebnani House’s fattoush salad; Photo by Chris Kessler
Lebnani House’s chicken shawarma; Photo by Chris Kessler

 

END THE YEAR OFF RIGHT WITH EXPERT FINANCIAL TIPS

Join us for a free webinar on Dec. 7 about year-end financial planning including: account management, credit needs and taxes. Register for expert tips today


Lebnani has a sister business in Jordan, but its menu does not offer the scope of this one. Here, the objective is to marry authenticity and modernity, with recipes created by an executive chef based overseas. A traditional dish like Lebanese fattoush (a toasted bread/mixed green salad, $9) is offered in its customary form and with a Lebnani twist – a dressing laced with fruity molasses and a generous sprinkling of fresh pomegranate seeds ($10).

In shades of blue and pink with a cascading centerpiece of faux flowers, the restaurant’s dining room is fittingly elegant. The floral work was created by Asmaa Abdel-Fattah, whose father, Naser Afattah, is one of the restaurant owners. The staff delivers a level of hospitality I so rarely see. And the food, well, it’s exceptional. The menu is many pages long and wrapped in a leather-like material. If you haven’t been swayed by the group of dishes that lead this review, there are others that shine including kubbeh ($9), which are fried croquettes of beef, onion, bulgur wheat and toasted pine nuts subtly flavored with cinnamon; the mixed grill of veal, chicken shish kebab and veal and lamb kebab served with a thin, almost translucent bread ($23); succulent grilled chicken shawarma with a yogurt-like garlic sauce ($18); and grilled kafta (lamb and veal, $18) with a tahini sauce that imparts nutty, cream-like opulence. 

Levantine cuisine is simply uncharted territory here in Milwaukee, and Lebnani offers a delectable, exuberant antidote to that. 


Lebnani House

5051 S. 27TH ST. | 414-488-8033

Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Prices: Main dishes $17-$24
Service: Very welcoming, attentive 
Reservations: Accepted


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.

Comments

comments

Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.