One of the many unique attributes of Birmingham’s food scene is its food festivals. I’ve never lived in a place that has such eagerly awaited festivals that really draw the attention of the entire city.

Last nite, it seemed like the entire city was at St Elias’ church in Glen Iris for their Lebanese food festival. Not that we’ve been to every food festival in town, but of those that I’ve attended, this one is our overall favorite. It was also the first one we attended after moving to Bham, which gives it some nostalgia for us. But there are a couple of things that really set this food festival apart. First of all, there are foods you can get there that you can’t get anywhere else in town. Second, of the more usual offerings, everything is homemade and absolutely outstanding. And finally, the atmosphere. The place was mobbed but in an orderly way, if that makes any sense. Neat lines were moving quickly and people were getting served efficiently-a difficult feat even for a restaurant that does this every night. These folks are clearly pro food festival leaders. And while waiting and while eating, there was plenty keep us occupied. When we went last night, we had the opportunity to see kids from the church perform Lebanese dancing-which really gave the event a festive, community oriented feel. Plus watching people serving and making food (more on that in a minute) was entertainment in and of itself.

The other thing that gives this festival a community feel is the communal seating. We were meeting a foodie friend and her parents who were in from out of town, and another foodie couple. Somehow, despite the crowd, we were able to get a spot at a table that accommodated all of us. We had a great time sharing food and taking it all in.

This is always a very well-attended and well-advertised festival that no doubt many of you already know about or have attended. So, I figured I would just share with you our favorite selections and hope to hear from you about yours.

Combination Plates

This is our go to meal at this festival. I love baked kibbeh , and this festival has my favorite in the city. Moist with a touch of ?cinnamon. Delish. We got the Beiruit combo which comes with a few of my other favorites: 2 grape leaves, spinach pie, rice, and green beans. All fantastic. This is the only place I’ve had a homemade middle eastern spinach pie in town (although Makarios has one, so I’ve heard-let me know if there are others).

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Comes with a salad with a light, citrus-y and vinegar-y dressing-a great complement to the heavier entrees:

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Labneh mint sandwich

I also had to get the one very unique item that for me is a must-eat every year. I’ve been trying to find out more about this dish online but I just can’t. If someone can help me I would greatly appreciate it. The ladies who were making and selling it were throwing thin dough in the air and then cooking it on this, which they told me was called a saaj. A piece of just-made bread is in the lower left corner. The ladies proudly told me that this is the closest thing to Lebanon in Bham, and I believe them:

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And here’s what they make with it. A sandwich with labneh (like Greek yogurt) and mint. Served hot in a paper towel:

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Now in cross section. Beautiful. The bread is light, and the labneh gives it a slightly tart flavor, which is contrasted by the bold fresh mint. We bought two and shared-it was a hit!

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Dessert

Speaking of sharing-desserts can’t be individually purchased so-our foodie friends were kind enough to buy this box for all of us to share:

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I wish I could tell you what they all are.
And we didn’t sample them all, of course. But I can tell you that the bottom two were similar to baklavah-phyllo dough with sugar, nuts, and honey. Fantastic. And the upper right pistachio cookie was light and literally melted as I ate it.

I was so glad we were able to share this experience with both local foodie friends and out of town guests-this festival is a real gem. If you haven’t been yet we hope you make it to St Elias this weekend-they’re open today for lunch and dinner. Their website is down right now-I’m getting an “exceeded bandwidth” error-but don’t worry, the festival itself is running in full force!