, located on the popular stretch of Warren Avenue in east Dearborn, is the fourth restaurant we have examined in our Mid-East Eats column.
After only four restaurants, patterns are emerging and flavor profiles recognized. Even after eating Middle Eastern food all my life, the nuances amongst the four places are fascinating. It is clear why people form favorites or get comfortable at one spot or another. And Cedarland has a lot of diners who call it their favorite.
Cedarland is clean and festive inside. The interior is well lit. Booths are huge, making them perfect for groups.
A meal at Cedarland begins with pickled turnips, pepperoncinis and bread. Two types of bread–traditional flat and puffier fresh baked (though not warm) pita–are offered. An additional (nice) touch is a pitcher of ice cold water.
There's no need to stray from the classics at Cedarland. Start with a plate of hummus. The small order is easily enough for three to four people. This hummus is no joke. The texture is spot-on and there is no lack of garlic or lemon.
Fattoush is something I can take or leave. I'm not usually impressed with it, but Cedarland's is something special. Most importantly, the pita bread is properly toasted and gives a proper crunch to the salad. The dressing is applied with a delicate hand so the bread remains crisp. Lettuce, radishes and onions are of the utmost freshness. A truly well-made salad.
As an added bonus, a cup of crushed lentil soup was brought to the table. Lentil soup is something that restaurants usually charge for, but Cedarland offers it for free. Lemony and full bodied, this isn't a throwaway course. Do not skip the free lentil soup. Savor it.
I have found the best way to gain an understanding of a Middle Eastern restaurant is through its sampler platter. Cedarland's Cedar's Plate includes shish kabob, shish kufta, shish tawook, falafel, grape leaves, fried kibbeh, chicken and meat shawarma with rice or fries.
First off, the fries at Cedarland are on par with any of the other places visited. Crisp and creamy, there is no need to complain. However, it baffles me as to why no place is making fresh-cut fries. If you know of an Arabic restaurant in Dearborn serving fresh-cut fries, leave me a note in the comments.
Even though I am not a huge fan of fried kibbeh (I prefer the raw version), Cedarland's version is the best I have sampled. A crunchy exterior gives way to a gently spiced, meaty interior. If not for the richness of the kibbeh, I could have eaten a number of these.
Sadly, much of the platter didn't impress. Don't get me wrong, everything tasted fine, but some of the items just left a bad taste in the mouth. For instance, both shawarmas, while seasoned well, were overcooked. The addition of toum makes the shawarma more moist.
As a rule, meat on a skewer is a good thing. Kufta, shish kabob and tawook are all on skewers, which means all are at least good. Most impressive of the three is the kufta, a Middle Eastern version of a burger. Ground lamb liberally seasoned with chunks of onion and parsley throughout is a dish that reminds me of childhood. Family barbecues would always have kufta.
Cedarland is definitely a place I would recommend visiting. If not for the shawarma, then definitely for the kufta and kibbeh. It is becoming clear that some places excel at one dish while others excel at another. This is the exciting part of visiting new restaurants–discovering specialties and favorite dishes.