I’m a sucker for good bread. It’s a detail that I never fail to notice in a fine-dining restaurant, and when I find good bread in a more casual place, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Here in New Orleans, of course, it’s harder to find bad bread than good just about anywhere you go, at least as long as you enjoy what we call “French bread.”
But there are some cuisines for which bread is a more integral part of the meal, and it’s there that subpar bread can be a problem. By and large, the restaurants in the area that fall under the rubric “Lebanese” tend to have pretty good pita bread. You’ll occasionally be served pita that’s a little stale, but that’s been the exception in my experience.
At Babylon Café, there’s an additional option. It’s a slightly thicker yeast bread with a soft brownish crust and a somewhat dense crumb. I’ve tried a few times to get someone to give me a name for it, but the response is always the same: “homemade bread.” The name isn’t really important, I suppose, when the bread is good. It’s a very interesting alternative to pita, and it’s an indication that the food you’re eating is also a bit unusual.
Take the Hummus with Lamb Meat, for example. It’s a dish I grew to love over repeated visits to Mona’s original Banks Street location, and that version is still a standard-bearer as far as I’m concerned. At Babylon, the dish is served on a wide plate, spread generously with a very smooth hummus bi tahini. Small cubes of sautéed lamb are piled in the center, along with a mix of sautéed vegetables such as carrot, cauliflower, onion, celery, peppers and squash. There’s a bit of heat from chiles and lubrication from olive oil; the whole thing comes together harmoniously. Those same vegetables and a few others turn up with feta in the Turlu, which is served over basmati rice. Most plates come with a salad, but it’s not particularly interesting. There are also the standards you expect from similar restaurants: stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, baba ghanouj and the like. I have a hard time getting past that hummus with lamb meat, to be honest.
The restaurant is located near Tulane University, and the crowd is generally pretty young, but despite my advanced age, I’ve never felt particularly uncomfortable. Service is basically serviceable and no more.
Babylon Café is located at 7724 Maple St., and you can reach them at 314-0010. The restaurant is open Monday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s certainly worth a shot if you’re in the neighborhood, and if you’re interested in seeing the cuisine done a little differently, it’s worth a drive, too.