The number of Middle Eastern delis in the Triangle has been steadily growing in recent years, but full service restaurants specializing in the cuisine remain conspicuously underrepresented. Shadi Rahal, a native of Jordan who has managed a couple of those delis (notably Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill), decided to do something about the problem. In late January, Rahal opened Sahara (100-104 Jerusalem Drive, 469-1003) in Morrisville, transforming the spot most recently occupied by Cajun Charlie's into a simply but attractively furnished dining room.
"We have the best hummus in town," Rahal says. But Sahara's offering goes far beyond the usual pita dips and Middle Eastern salads. Feta-stuffed artichoke hearts, kebabs (lamb, beef, chicken, shrimp, kofta and vegetarian), rotisserie-roasted chicken, lamb chops and grilled shrimp are among the highlights. Nearly two dozen wraps and pita sandwiches (Rahal is especially proud of his gyros) are also offered, as well as several desserts (including baklava and chocolate halvah). Sahara is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with hookahs available after 4 p.m.
Meanwhile in Holly Springs, Fat Philly's (7272 G.B. Alford Highway, 552-8053; www.fatphillys.com), addresses another gap in the local restaurant market: authentic Philly cheese steaks. Owners Jeffrey and Dana Mueller aren't from Philadelphia, but they have invested considerable research into creating a sandwich that's as close to the real thing as you'll find this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. As the result of their research, which included sampling numerous cheese steaks and touring the facilities of top purveyors in Philadelphia, Fat Philly's cheese steaks feature shaved rib-eye from The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. on rolls from Amoroso's.
In the provolone vs. Cheez Whiz debate (which, I understand, is as hotly debated a topic in the City of Brotherly Love as the whole hog vs. pork shoulder barbecue debate is in these parts), the Muellers have come down on the provolone side. Melted cheddar and white American cheese are also available, as are grilled onions and a number of other embellishments, from grilled peppers and mushrooms to homemade marinara and pepperoni (the Pizza Steak).
Fat Philly's also serves hoagies (including Italian, cheeseburger, "sizzlin' veggie" and -- a concession to local tastes -- pork barbecue), as well as an assortment of deli sandwiches, wraps and salads. But the Philly cheese steak is clearly the star of the show. I'll leave it to Philadelphia transplants to judge its authenticity. But, having sampled one myself (with provolone and grilled onions), I can enthusiastically confirm that Fat Philly's cheese steak passes the juices-dribbling-down-your-wrist test.