Houstonians want chips and salsa at the start of a meal. So Lebanese restaurant Petit Café, on Eldridge Parkway in the Energy Corridor, gives it to them in its own way. Whether you're there for lunch or dinner, the first thing a server will bring you is a basket of pita chips with a plate of olive oil. A mound of the spice mix known as za'atar rises from the oil. It's your job to mix the two to your taste. I like a thick paste, but you might prefer oil flavored with just a bit of the mix that includes oregano, basil, thyme and sesame.
And the entrée (used in the French sense, meaning entrance or beginning, appropriate in this Franco-influenced Lebanese spot), is just the first of many surprises. For less than $20 before tip, I ate five different dishes. That included a choice of salad, including fattoush and Greek. But I thought it necessary to pick the Lebanese house salad. It couldn't be more simple: just chunks of lettuce, tomato and cucumber in an almost effervescently fresh lemon-mint vinaigrette. Sides also included a bowl of hummus drizzled with high-quality olive oil and fresh, soft pita.
I was underwhelmed by the rqaqet (alternatively spelled rakakat). The cheese-filled phyllo cigars, usually stuffed with just cheese and spices, were dominated by cubes of onion that didn't cook in the time it took to bake the pastries. Raw onion rolls in cheese sauce? Not my thing.
But the entrée, a plate of the homemade Lebanese sausage maqanek (makanek elsewhere on the same menu) was most assuredly my style. The bouncy sections of cinnamon-suffused sausage were sautéed with onions and tomato, then "drowned," according to the menu, in lemon juice. The lime on top was just for show. No one would need more citrus than was already on the plate, says the lady who has to use special enamel-protective toothpaste due to her insatiable appetite for lemons. But for acid cravers like me, the dish is a sour, sweet and diversely spiced treat. I especially enjoyed picking up a few pieces of sausage and its accompaniments in pita, then dipping the bread in the lemon sauce. Not quite chips and salsa, but a dip-able delight all the same.