Thursday, July 30 2009
Middle Eastern appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts soon will perk up Evansville's restaurant scene.
Damascus, Syria, native Amjad Manna, and his wife, Kristi, plan to offer some of the flavors of his regional roots at their new restaurant, Manna Mediterranean Grill, at 2913 Lincoln Ave.
Due to open Saturday for lunch and dinner, the restaurant is in the remodeled building formerly occupied by Lee's Chicken, which closed about a year ago.
"As Evansville is becoming more multicultural, we want to provide Middle Eastern food like we prepare and eat at home," said Manna.
Everything on the menu will feature recipes from his homeland region, except for the cheese pita pizza, chicken pieces, hamburgers and cheeseburgers that are on the children's menu, he said.
The lowest-priced item, at $2.99, will be grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomato, parsley and mild Middle Eastern spices.
The most expensive item will be a shish kebab for $12.99 that features marinated beef tenderloin grilled and served with aromatic rice, salad and pita bread.
Other items will include kibbeh, hummus, Greek salad, lamb/beef gyro sandwiches and baklawa for dessert.
If the Manna name seems familiar, it's understandable.
Manna, 38, is the nephew of Raffi Manna, a native of Jerusalem and owner of Raffi's Restaurant on North Burkhardt Road, which specializes in Italian dishes and American steaks.
The younger Manna had worked at Raffi's since coming to this country in 1997 and considers Raffi his mentor.
"He's taught me a lot," said Amjad Manna.
"How he treats customers is incredible. He remembers everyone's name."
Said Raffi Manna: "Amjad is smart, very smart. He listens well, is a good learner, is kind, dedicated and a hard worker.
"I wish him well."
Mediterranean dishes feature more meat and salads, unlike Italian food which is dominated by pasta, said Amjad Manna.
He plans to drive to Louisville, Ky., and Chicago regularly to pick up many of the ingredients for the restaurant's dishes, including spices, Greek olives, olive oil and meats.
Some ingredients will be purchased in Evansville as well, he said.
Manna Mediterranean Grill will offer sit-down dining and will fill takeout orders.
The restaurant also will cater business luncheons and dinners, Manna said.
In the future, it might also include drive-through service, once the clientele is built and customers are familiar with the restaurant's menu.
Manna graduated this year from the University of Southern Indiana with a bachelor's degree in business.
Kristi Manna, a native of Newburgh, is a newcomer to the restaurant business. She comes from a marketing and advertising background, having worked for the MAC Group Agency.
She said the Web sites of the city government (www.evansvillegov.org) and state government (www.in.gov.org) helped them tremendously in getting the business established online, including becoming incorporated.
The couple researched online, step by step, the various permits they would be required to have to operate the business and health codes they must also follow.