Le Souk
Le Souk
NJ Town: Montclair
Cuisine: Middle Eastern

Is this a restaurant or an antique / tchotchke store? Or maybe it’s both? One will never know which takes priority, but I can confirm that they do serve some really tasty Middle Eastern grub in what feels like your hippie aunt’s cramped apartment. I think — and I may have a flawed memory here — that this joint was a dusty, old stationary shop prior to becoming a place where people are expected to eat. One of those shops that is never open, but somehow subsists.

So, let’s pretend whatever old person who owned the former store didn’t die in the back room under a pile of newspapers from the 1970s and focus on the restaurant that opened in its place. Le Souk, as I’ve mentioned, is an anomaly of sorts. Walking by, you might not even notice that it’s a space that serves food. It looks like an eclectic craft store, replete with hanging and draped shawls and rugs, decorative pillows and the ubiquitous dreamcatchers, hanging evil eyes and other new-agey-looking knick-knacks. In fact, rolling up to this corner joint in Montclair’s Watchung Plaza, I was confused and thought perhaps we’d arrived at the wrong storefront. But, no, it is indeed an eatery as well. Even inside, I was a little unclear how and where they installed a working kitchen, but we did order cooked food, and it seemed to appear from the rear (a turn of phrase that isn’t as ominous as it sounds) of the space somehow. So unless they’re rockin’ a portal, there is presumably working fire in there somewhere.

Once my curiosity was assuaged, we settled in and realized we were basically having a private party with what I can only assume is the owner/server. Our party wasn’t huge — maybe around twelve — but we pretty much sold out the small space. It was cool being the lone diners, but it also added to the feeling we were eating in a random aunt’s apartment. Luckily that aunt can cooook some Middle Eastern food. It felt like a family meal — and not just because Ms. Hipster brings some Middle Eastern to the table. Dips galore. I’m talkin’ hummus, baba ganoush and labneh. Combined with some falafel and kebeh. Mash it all up and and it’s a taste explosion! Hipster Grandmother-in-law used to make the homemade Lebanese version of all these things, though this is posed as Syrian. Honestly, it’s all the same stuff. If you like this cuisines and don’t mind garlic overload, you’ll really dig it.

For my meal, I had some beef shawarma, which is basically grilled sirloin served with more tahini and some other mixers. All of which are aromatic and probably teaming with sumac and za’atar. One of which I always thought was a cousin of poison oak, and another that I swear was Shaq’s name in a genie movie from the 90s. But I’m kind of dumb — and apparently ignorant of other cultures. Whatever was in it, I was happy as a clam dipping pita, mixing meats and drowning stuff in sesame seed related sauces. The multiple glasses of BYOB wine certainly didn’t dampen my mood, either. But, yes, you can have a warm, inviting time in someone’s tiny storefront that is also a restaurant if you just let go, enjoy the company and remember not everything has to look like a modern temple to food in order to be a welcoming respite for those seeking a warm meal and a homey night out on the town.

51 Watchung Plaza – Montclair