Frozen yogurt is relatively easy to find. Exceptional Middle Eastern cuisine can be a bit tougher. But Abdel Wahab found a way to offer both at TAZA Grill in East Lyme.
Wahab and his family came to America from Egypt several years ago, with the idea to start a restaurant that served the freshest food every day. A friend told him about a recently-closed Peach Wave franchise in East Lyme and, when Wahab looked at it, he knew it would be the perfect arrangement.
TAZA’s authentic, homemade dishes, including falafel, lamb kofta, hummus and shawarma, are already getting rave online reviews, including 34 five-star ratings on Facebook.
He smiles. “My idea was to have everything on display, like a food court, but the franchise did not approve this idea. But if we kept the Peach Wave name up and the same image, we could put our kitchen inside,” he says. There were, of course, many challenges along the way.
“We tried to get it going by Christmas last year, but we had to get a gas line, and a permit, follow all the codes, make sure the kitchen is safe, and install grease traps so that no grease would go into the town sewer system,” says Wahab, then shakes his head. “There is no added oil or grease in our food. All food is mainly cooked on the barbeque grill, and [we] roast the chicken and meat to be low-fat.”
The great thing about everything on TAZA’s menu is that it is prepared early in the morning before the restaurant opens at 11. That means your falafel or shwarma didn’t come from the freezer. Wahab says that preparing food in big volume means less flavor.
Eat Healthy, Eat Fresh—that’s the motto for the menu at TAZA Grill. Salt, pepper, vinegar, and lemon—no additives. The proof is in the eating and everything on the menu is excellent—the quality of food you might find in a city setting.
“In any town, you’ll find pizza, Italian, Chinese, and Mexican places,” says Wahab, “but not too many Middle Eastern restaurants. People come here and say the food is as good as in New Haven or Providence.” Commenters on Trip Advisor and Yelp confirm that opinion.
TAZA’s original menu offered basic dishes: falafel made of chickpeas, onion, parsley and cilantro; shawarma made of marinated chicken or lamb; kababs, and roasted kofta of minced chicken or lamb with spices. As more people discovered the restaurant, the menu grew with the addition of sides and specials, often requested by customers. Now patrons can look forward to stuffed grape leaves, hummus (chickpea spread), baba ghannoush (eggplant dip), tabouli (wheat and parsley salad), and various mixed salads, soups, rice, sandwiches and wings. There is also a children’s menu of familiar favorites for cautious eaters.
Wahab arrives in the kitchen each in the morning to begin preparations, and is soon joined by his wife Basmia, and the manager, José Aldea. By eleven o?clock, the food is ready to serve to the customers starting to arrive.
Like most entrepreneurs, Wahab has dreams and plans for the future. With his passion for serving fresh food, what would that entail? “I’d like to have many small places around the area,” he says. “We would do all the cooking and prep here in the mornings, then deliver the food to the other sites. That way, we only need one kitchen.”
What about the yogurt? Wahab grins. “The Peach Wave is perfect ending to a meal, and it’s right here.”
Nothing has changed about the self-serve yogurt shop except the addition of fabulous Middle Eastern cuisine.
TAZA Grill Middle Eastern Cuisine is located at 170 Flanders Road, East Lyme, CT 06333. For more information, call 860-451-8061 or visit tazagrilleastlyme.com.