William El-Biri loves seeing people enjoy good food and drink in a welcoming atmosphere.
“Lebanese people are known for their hospitality,” affirms William, owner of Saaj Lebanese Bar & Grill with Souheil El-Richani and Nadim Dergham, lifelong friends who grew up in the same Lebanese town. “Greeting and taking care of customers is in our blood. We love sharing our culture and traditions.”
What a tasty tradition it is.
Since Saaj’s June 13 opening, customers have been raving about the authentic, heart-healthy dishes. Among the favorites are Saaj’s Mezza Combo, a sharable appetizer brimming with hummus (chickpea dip), baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant spread), falafel (chickpea and fava bean croquettes) and tabouli (parsley and cracked wheat salad).
Made in-house daily, Adass Bil Hamod soup features lentils, Swiss chard, garlic, onions, potatoes, lemon juice and spices.
Six mishwee platters, served with a choice of rice or couscous and tahini (sesame) or garlic sauce, are also crowd pleasers. Many folks opt for the Mishwee Combo Kabob—a delightful array of chicken, kafta (lean ground beef) and filet kabobs with skewered tomatoes, peppers and onions.
Prepared by an experienced chef who hails from the Middle East, Saaj’s generous dishes are designed to evoke fond memories from the partners’ childhood. In fact, the restaurant’s name pays homage to a traditional flat bread that is baked on a hot wok, explains manager Lina El-Richani.
“In Lebanon, grandmothers wake up early to bake saaj,” she says. “Then they make sandwiches for their kids. We use saaj for our sandwiches. Customers who prefer pita have that option, but we highly recommend they try saaj.”
“Saaj-wiches” are available in several varieties, including chicken, beef, lamb, falafel and vegetable. All come with a salad or french fries.
Health-conscious diners can feel good about everything prepared in Saaj’s kitchen, thanks to locally grown produce, high-quality meats, and authentic Lebanese spices such as zaatar and fruity olive oil. Pure vegetable oil is used in separate fryers designated for vegetarian and meat dishes.
Full bar service is available, with Lebanese libations front and center. William suggests the light Almaza beer or Kasara and Kefrya wines. Both wines are available in red and white versions. Spirit lovers will enjoy Saaj’s specialty drinks. Named after the Lebanese tradition of greeting friends with three pecks on the cheek, the Three Kisses cocktail blends vodka, strawberries, lemon and sugar. With a nod to the Lebanese Cedar tree, Saaj’s Cedar Tea combines vodka, rum, gin, melon liqueur and pineapple.
Children are always welcome at Saaj, where the kiddie menu features fare named after the owners’ offspring. Lebanese offerings, such as kebabs and rice, are available. But less adventurous youngsters may select from spaghetti, burgers and more familiar American dishes. William hopes children will eventually become curious enough to nibble off their parents’ plates.
When the partners took over the space, they embarked on a much-needed makeover to replace dark, cloudy bubble windows and outdated décor, among other things. The renovated restaurant now boasts exposed brick arches, warm orange walls, updated restrooms and a large bar illuminated with pendant lights. Among the 100 indoor seats are upholstered booths. Red umbrellas preside over 38 patio seats.
Live entertainment Friday nights, from 7-10 p.m., include pianists, Brazilian jazz, belly dancers and others. Private parties can be accommodated and gift cards are available.
“We’re happy to bring Saaj to Solon, where customers appreciate healthy, authentic food,” William says. “What you see on your plate is what you eat—no preservatives or MSG, just fresh vegetables, rice, meat and spices.”
Saaj Lebanese Bar & Grill is located at 33003 Aurora Road, in Solon. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-9 p.m. The phone number is 440-349-2300 and the web address is www.SaajGrill.com.