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Lebanese lunch

Lawrence's Cafe offers Middle Eastern at a bargain



Family-owned Lawrence's Cafe has been a destination for years for those seeking great Middle Eastern food. Still, it's easy to overlook at first. A small unassuming box with faded red awnings near the corner of North Druid Hills Road and Buford Highway, it stands next door to the Rusty Nail's large iron gun and across the street from an auto-body repair shop. Friday and Saturday nights, the dark interior is aglow with sensual belly dancing. And a regular crowd shows up for affordable lunch plates every day of the week.

BARGAIN LUNCH: The sign advertising a $4.75 vegetarian platter sounds too good to be true. But the combo entree, which includes hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouli and falafel, delivers big value. The creamy hummus and baba ghanoush are rich in texture and lemony tang, tempered with drizzles of olive oil. But the green, grainy tabbouli, with tons of chopped parsley, minimal amounts of bulgar (cracked wheat) and lots of lemon juice, is my favorite.

MIX AND MATCH: Standards are dressed up for various other menu items as well. The hummus with foul (cooked fava beans with parsley, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil) is served with salad ($6) or topped with sauteed, seasoned meat ($6.75). The fried golf-ball-sized nuggets of falafel, with their crispy outside and soft interior, are perfect for a sandwich wrapped in warm pita ($4). Make sure to get it with the creamy, white tahini dressing.

MEAT ON A SPIT: You won't see the lamb or beef slowly spinning on the spit, but you can taste the smoky, grilled flavor in the house specialties. Try the roasted leg of lamb over rice ($6.95) or the gyro platter ($6.50), with marinated strips of the processed lamb/beef combo doused in tahini.

For more meat, go for "the works" ($7.25), which includes portions of beef or lamb kabobs, kafta, chicken, hummus and baba ghanoush. The lamb and marinated chicken were tender and juicy. The well-seasoned kafta, a Middle Eastern hamburger-type mixture, was crispy outside, chewy inside.

SWEET TOOTH: The list of desserts includes walnut or pine nut baklava ($1.25-$1.50) and date-filled mammoul ($2.50), so you may want to cut the super-sweetness with bitter Lebanese coffee ($2.25). Presented on a brass service, the coffee can be too much for the uninitiated. My friend couldn't stomach the dense, heady liquid.

GRAB IT AND GO: If you don't have time to sit, grab a sandwich (all $5.50) to go. The shawarma sandwich is a sweet and spicy mix of marinated beef and lamb, covered in tahini with tomatoes and onions, and wrapped in a pita. It's messy, but oh-so worth it.

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