Some gems are all the more delightful for how they reveal themselves to me. Cafe Alula was one such soft, genuine treasure. I fell in love with the way the team made it a real cornerstone of their neighborhood and their community.
The cafe itself is actually a tiny, unassuming restaurant a few steps away from where one of my closest friends lives. And, as with all the best discoveries, I happened upon it by chance when my friend and I were looking for a place to have dinner.
Drawn in by her description, I chose to go there and was charmed from the get go as I stepped through the entrance which was the perfect blend of fresh and modern, warmed with vibrant green plants and touches of fifties style colors and lines. And, as you explore inside, the experience just keeps getting better as the quaint interiors are so small and narrow yet filled with character.
Once we entered, my friend was quick to help me choose from the menu, although she expressed that practically all of the dishes had been tried and tested by her and they were delicious. The moment she said that, I wanted to order everything, because such an endorsement from her is high praise as she has standards, haha!
I was particularly intrigued by some of the combinations on the menu and by how the falafel was oven prepared and not fried. I love those thoughtful strides towards healthy offerings. It shows that whoever has prepared the menu, has done so with care and consideration.
Inspired by all the details dotted around the cozy interior, I was clicking away capturing all that beckoned me and listening to my friend as she said one positive detail after another about the restaurant. Then she pointed out to me that the owner was there and that was my cue! So I walked over quickly and started a conversation with Tony who turned out to be a down to earth, quietly expressive gentleman of Lebanese origin.
I say a gentleman because he is one. He told me of how Cafe Alula was not his first venture, as he had started an Italian restaurant with his ex-wife, which did quite well and that he left to her in their divorce. Following the divorce, he decided to go to Lebanon for a long visit, and it was only when he returned that he was shown the space which was eventually to become Cafe Alula. Although the deal for the space was through a friend and for an excellent price, he wasn’t really sure what to do with it at first, as it was so narrow. But, that night, he had a dream about its potential success. He went back the next day and signed the contract! Still a bit stumped about how he was going to make it work, he was tap tap tapping around on the walls and lo and behold, he found that one was hollow and by knocking it through, he gained just enough width for that space to operate as a service area! And, just as his dream foretold, Cafe Alula was born. This time Tony wanted to offer a cuisine that was more authentic to his roots. I just love stories with good omens and happy endings. God is indeed very generous in the most custom and nuanced ways!
He got some of the recipes for the amazing menu from his mother and from his girlfriend, Chelsea who definitely has a flair for fusion which changed up the ingredients in a most yummy way. For example, there is a zaatar and labneh sandwich with the very successful addition of avocado to the mix. There is also a must-try cauliflower shawarma! It was a pleasure speaking with her on that topic as well as the background to the name, ‘Alula’. Ask any Arab or Muslim and they will tell you that we take a lot of stock by the naming of something. That’s why the names of children, and the specific meaning of the names are chosen with such care. So yes, Alula does mean, ‘they told her’, but more interestingly it means the part underneath the wing of a falcon that helps it change direction very fast! That was exactly what Tony had done, he had left an old life for one where his intention was to be more authentic and more connected to his roots. I would say that change had been successful and in sha Allah to more and more success!
I heard that Tony was being offered to take Cafe Alula to Dubai and that is one offer I hope he takes up, and that the Dubai branch is in my neighborhood!