BABA: A Perfect Marriage of Lebanese and Greek. “Baba” means “Dad” in both Greek and Lebanese. Since its owner, Debbie Sayegh, is Lebanese and her chef-husband, George Sayegh, is Greek, the name BABA for their restaurant makes sense. And so does the wonderful cuisine of this relatively new Mediterranean restaurant in St. Pete’s thriving Grand Central District. Located at 2701 Central Avenue, this converted garage has ample inside and outside seating and offers the freshest and best Mediterranean fare around the city.
The husband-and-wife team may be better known for their award-winning Cuban establishment, Bodega, which is about 16 blocks farther east on Central. When I asked Debbie why the Cuban restaurant first, her answer was simple. Her husband, George had worked in a Cuban restaurant in Miami prior to moving to St. Pete.
The décor at BABA on Central is reflective of the Greek Isles with blue and beige backgrounds. The bar offers full liquor, including multiple types of Greek Ouzo and other spirits, beer, and wine. The Mezzes, a selection of small dishes served as appetizers in parts of the Middle East, are varied, fresh, inventive and shareable. My favorites are the Falafel with apple and fennel shavings and tahini, and Haloumi cheese with pickled Fresno chilies, Greek honey, fennel, and endive. Right- variety of dinner dishes, soups, appetizers and drinks)
Equally outstanding is the grilled octopus (LEFT). And the grilled cauliflower steak with romesco sauce and pine nuts is delicious. The most unusual is the Koulupdia—think a big pretzel and a sesame seed bagel having a child. It comes with feta cheese, olives, and a soft egg.
Six spreads are offered, with any three for $15. This includes the daily in-house baked luscious pitas. These are not your ordinary pitas. They are fluffy, yeasty, and soft. My favorite spreads are the Labneh (a type of strained Greek yogurt cheese), Humus, and Muhammar, a hot pepper dip from Syria. Zatar, a middle eastern spice made with Sumac, is sprinkled on top of the bread.
Along with the Mezzes, and a salad, one could have a complete vegetarian or vegan meal. Or one could opt for the large main of eggplant stuffed with lentil, walnut, tomato, and roasted pepper. For the carnivores, there are lamb chops, chicken, large prawns on a plank, Hangar steak, and whole roasted fish. The latter is either a local species or else imported branzino.
BABA on Central grows its own herbs and Aleppo peppers from seeds. All the scrumptious desserts are available for take-out and made by a dedicated pastry chef. Many are from Debbie’s own family recipes. The baklava is outstanding and, one night when we were there, it was paired with a delicious pistachio gelato. (Prawns with crispy seared Polenta and fresh herbs-Right)
Since it opened less than a year ago, my wife and I have visited BABA on Central multiple times. As diet choices come and go, the consistently best is the Mediterranean diet. There is no better place to enjoy the multi-faceted offerings of this delightful cuisine than Baba. It is well on its way to becoming a St. Pete icon for international cuisine and dining. (Bavarian creme with lemon and jasmine sample of many homemade desserts-Left.)
Now you can see why we say BABA: A Perfect Marriage of Lebanese and Greek. BABA on Central is located at 2701 Central Ave. St. Petersburg, FL | Call for Reservations: 727 954 3406 or visit www.eatatbaba.com. (Top feature photo of Red wine braised Short Rib, parsnip purée, roasted peas and spiced Lebanese gravy.
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