Mar Mar Restaurant in West Brighton gains a following with its authentic Mediterranean fare
by Jessica Jones-Gorman Photos By Alex Barreto
For years, Alan Aldakhlallah and Russell Romhen believed there was a void in Staten Island’s food diversity. Both men, who are of Syrian descent, craved the fresh “meze” style food on which they were raised, but had to travel to Brooklyn, Manhattan, or New Jersey to find it. So, after scouting out a prime North Shore location for their dream business and devising a menu full of tabouleh, falafel, and kibbeh, the pair opened Mar Mar Restaurant in January.
“It’s hard to find Syrian, Lebanese and other Mediterranean in New York, and Staten Island is an even smaller market,” noted Aldakhlallah. “But the food is so tasty—there’s such a variety of hot and cold appetizers, delicious grilled meats and vegetables. Russell and I knew this type of cuisine would be a success in the borough.”
Mar Mar has created quite a buzz in the past several months, attracting residents from across the borough to its West Brighton address.
“We renovated this space, which had been vacant for about eight or nine months, to give it a rustic look,” Aldakhlallah said. “We opened up the front, added these big windows, and also added a space for customers to eat outside if they’d like. We chose Forest Avenue because we really like this neighborhood; everyone is so friendly and eager to try new things.”
The restaurant features exposed brick walls and banquette seating—its cherry wood floors and tables illuminated by Thomas Edison chandeliers and wall sconces. The partners chose the name Mar Mar—which means “marble” or “expensive stone” in Arabic—simply because they liked the sound of it.
Aldakhlallah said that one of his most popular dishes is the mixed grill, which consists of chunks of filet mignon, chicken kabab, and kufta (spiced meatballs). There’s also hummus, traditional baba ghanoush (cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil and seasonings), hand rolled grape leaves stuffed with vegetables and rice, muhamara (a red pepper dip with crushed walnuts and arayes), and grilled pita that is stuffed with either meat or cheese.
Other Syrian favorites like sambousek (essentially the Middle Eastern version of empanadas), lebneh (a yogurt dish), and chanklish (a special Levantine cheese) are also on hand. Desserts include authentic kanafe, which is made with shredded phyllo dough, Syrian sweet cheese, and rosewater, and baklava, a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo filled with chopped nuts, sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. And while the restaurant has not obtained its liquor license yet, it does serve Arabic coffee and ayran, a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt.
“All of the meats—lamb, fish, chicken, and steak—are served with deliciously seasoned vegetables and rice,” the owner said. “And the desserts are sweet and crisp. From start to finish, we serve a beautiful meal.”
For the past several months, Aldakhlallah reported customers have been comparing his dishes to home-cooked family meals, which he deems the ultimate compliment.
“They tell me they have been searching for this type of food on Staten Island for years,” he concluded. “And they’re calling it home cooked, just like something they’ve tasted in their grandmother’s kitchen, and to me, that’s the best comparison that can be made.”
Mar Mar Restaurant
370 Forest Avenue / 718.556.2220