Karen and I brought Jasper out for brunch to Aziza’s. Having read Brandon Fox’s write-up in Style (she heaped superlatives on their cream puffs), I made a surprise of it for Karen (previously a devotee of Jean Jacques creme puffs). Without Brandon’s review, I don’t know if I’d ever have figured out what was offered inside Aziza’s. I’d been driving or riding by, curious, but without a clue. When I heard it was Lebanese, of course, I was happy. I love Lebanese food. However, I really wasn’t prepared for the fantastic food experience that we found inside . (apologies in advance for my blurry camera phone pictures)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Lebanese brunch and Karen was wary of the whole surprise aspect of the meal (especially as we were lugging Jasper into the place). When they said they didn’t have decaf (Karen doesn’t do caffeine), I started to think, “Okay, here we go…” But, they had a highchair at our table in no time and presented us with a small plate of bread for baby nibbling (see pic at the bottom). The bread’s crustiness was familiar. Then I noticed their brochure explained that the Billy behind Billy Bread was behind this new restaurant venture. A good sign, if you ask me. (turns out I missed a few of these details from Brandon’s piece, and it’s not actually Billy bread. Doh!).
There were four fritatas on the menu, two were veggie. I asked the server to help me choose between mushroom and cheddar vs. olive, feta and spinach. She said their olives are so good, everything with them is not to be missed. Done deal. She also said the potatoes are on the side instead of inside the fritata, another plus as the starchy blocks ruin most of the fritatas I’ve had in Richmond. When my dish came out, it looked great. The side of “greens” was a salad with delicious olive oil (not some Costco crap used at other restaurants). And was that a few drops of balsamic? (not sure). Their were a couple kalamata olives on the side and their brine and salt suprised both Karen and me like no other olive. The potatoes were soft, savory and appropriately greasy. The centerpiece fritata was loaded with kalamata pieces, barely wilted spinach and crumbled feta. The plate basically redeemed fritatas in my book. I think it was $8 – no complaints here. But, the best was yet to come.
Karen ordered the “shrimp and crab griddlecake,” served on top of eggs and toast and topped with a chunky tomato sauce. The same salad and potatoes accompanied. The griddlecake was dense with seafood and it absolutely popped with seasoning. Egg and a runny yolk put each bite into that jump up and smack yer grandpappy realm. The toast had soaked up some of the tomato sauce and tied the whole thing together with tang and chewiness. Comparisons with Cafe Rustica’s “Mediterranean Shortstack” are inevitable. I’d have to go back and try both to detail the differences, but they’re both so good and probably distinctive, that it won’t make sense to lump them together (like I’ve done here).
The meal was so good that we had to end with something sweet: a creme puff, of course. Karen loved it. The filling was light and rich and the chocolate on top turned the pastry into an ideal form of decadence (I require chocolate in desert to be truly happy). Before leaving, we ordered a couple more creme puffs to bring to friends, and some brownies. If Karen weren’t with me, I’d never have rationalized $3.50 per creme puff. But she assured me that these were easily $4 creme puffs and replaced Jean Jacques as her favorite in Richmond. We also bought a small tabbouleh and a vegetarian koosa (stuffed squash) for a future at home meal.
Aziza’s is a real find, a great addition to Richmond’s brunch scene, and a neat story that involves almost 100 years of Billy’s family history. But, for me, the real discovery is that we can indeed take our baby out for meals, as long as it’s daytime, he’s hungry, and the restaurant has a highchair and brings the bread out quickly. The little guy dropped lots of bread on the floor, but I picked it all up before we left. He also flirted with every server, and fell in love with the bright green soccer game on the flat screen over the bar. Aside from a few loud baby exclamations, he was a well behaved baby. On the way out, I spied Billy, himself behind the counter, cooking up each entree. It seemed pretty obvious to me that he’s got another culinary vision and he’s carrying it out well. Now, if only they were open for dinner and not just lunch and weekend brunch. Well, there’s always reheated carryout.