Epicurean

Where you can eat halal

CORRESPONDENTSeptember 16, 2009 

Fasten your seat belts, fellow foodies. This week's news takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and South Asia.

At Clay Pit (4853 N.C. 55, Durham; 806-2100), you can eat your way from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, all in one sitting. Just schedule your travel itinerary to include the $8.49 lunch buffet. Get there early, though, if you want to avoid the RTP crowd.

Clay Pit is named for the tandoori oven in which many of the restaurant's Indian specialties and breads are baked. There's also a sampling of the tandoori beef fare of owner Jaffery Mubarak's native Pakistan, as well as an assortment of curries (chicken, lamb and beef), vegetarian dishes and variations on the biryani theme. The cuisines of Greece and the Middle East are well represented, too, by an offering ranging from hummus and baba ghanoush to spanakopita and moussaka.

The common thread throughout this diverse offering is that all the food is halal, approved for consumption by followers of Islam.

"It's hard for a Muslim in this area to find a restaurant that serves halal," Mubarak says, "so I opened one." Mubarak's faith also explains the restaurant's soon-to-be-changing hours. It's open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Beginning next month, after the end of Ramadan, it will also be open Sundays.

Compared with Clay Pit's ethnic variety , the offering at Manuel Mediterranean Grille & Pizza (152 Morrisville Square Way, Morrisville; 321-8360; www.manuelrestaurant.com) seems positively streamlined. There's still plenty, though, on a menu whose offering covers the Mediterranean spectrum from stuffed grape leaves and kofta kebabs to pizzas and panini.

What sets this family-run eatery apart from the Middle Eastern deli/kebab house/pizzeria, though, is the sprinkling of Egyptian flavors on the menu. Spicy Egyptian sausage, for instance, and pastirma (air-cured beef, which the menu refers to by the more familiar name of "pastrami," a close culinary relative), both of which you'll find among the stromboli filling options. There's also kushari, a hearty medley of rice, lentils and elbow pasta topped with a pungent tomato sauce.

Manuel Mediterranean Grille & Pizza is owned by Soheir Iskander, a native of Egypt who does most of the cooking, and her daughter, Martha Wanas. A counter-service eatery, it's open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Greg Cox is the restaurant critic and food writer for The News & Observer. He can be reached at ggcox@bellsouth.net ggcox@bellsouth.net. Read more about the Triangle dining scene at blogs.newsobserver.com/mouthful blogs. newsobserver.com/mouthful

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