Like the block of East Main on which it resides, Aziza's is a work in progress. The outlook is good, even in these tough economic times, but the concept is evolving. Bracketed by Globe Hopper CafAc's caffeine and Wi-Fi access at 21st Street, and Honey Whyte's all-American burgers and beers at 22nd, Aziza's has made a name for itself in the neighborhood by offering authentic Lebanese and delicatessen fare at lunchtime.
Now the culinary team of Rusty and Billy Fallen has expanded the cafe's hours to include a well-attended Sunday brunch as well as dinner on Thursday and Friday nights. When Style Weekly last visited Aziza's, our reviewer raved that Richmond finally had a serious contender in the Middle-Eastern heavyweight division: “I wish Aziza's served dinner so I could try its versions of kebabs or kibbe or shawarma. Maybe soon.”
Instead of embracing traditional Lebanese, the Fallens have ventured into a sort of Pan-Mediterranean Aÿ la carte menu of simple, clean dishes with respectable results. Entrees are $16 and have recently included rockfish, mussels, golden tile fish, lamb and veal chops. They're largely unadorned: salt, pepper and onto the fire. Sides to complete the plate, such as white beans and pancetta, tabbouleh, wild mushroom sautAc, and roasted mixed vegetables (ratatouille), are $4 each.
An interesting meal can be had by combining appetizers with soups and sides. Gorgonzola and pears drizzled in honey, prosciutto and dates as big as your thumb, a deliciously velvet asparagus soup, garlic griddled shrimp, and an unadorned cheese plate offer a range of possibilities. Regardless of what you order, save room for the best cream puff you're likely to encounter in Richmond. It's huge, chocolate-glazed and fit for two people, unless you're me.
The extensive wine list, bread and olive oil on the table, pottery decorating the exposed brick walls, and soft candlelight make the space inviting and work perfectly in keeping with the expenditure. But I have to wonder, why the fine-dining approach when you have a deli case and a solid ethnic tradition to work with? Especially when the East End seems to be up to its ears in higher-end offerings such as Millie's, Sensi, Bookbinders and Morton's.
Perhaps the promised addition of a brick pizza oven in the new year will lend direction to a still evolving concept and allow the joint to be open nightly throughout the week. It's exceedingly difficult to win over new patrons with such limited hours of operation. I get cravings for the porterhouse pork chop with wild mushroom sautAc. Unfortunately my stomach and palate have a poor sense of the days of the week.
I look forward to going back in a few months for an update. I'd love to see someone offer great pizza in the East End (If you're a Bottom's Up or Sette fan, more power to you. I'm still craving more consistency than I've found in any pie on our end of town). Plus, lower prices at dinner will make Aziza's as much a local favorite in the evening as it is at noon.
Aziza's on Main ($$)
2110 E. Main St.
Dinner Thursday-Friday 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Brunch Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.