Belkoom is a slang Arabic word from the mountain towns of Lebanon that means a large, mouthful of food. According to Belkoom Authentic Lebanese Restaurant’s website, this is what they hope to see inside their establishment. However, if you do not turn your head at the right moment, you might miss the small restaurant tucked away in the corner of a strip mall on Main Street in Blacksburg.
Moving from Lebanon to Roanoke in 2002, Michael Salamoun always had a strong desire to own a restaurant because he loves to cook. The entire family rallied to make his dream a reality. Now he and his son, Nasri, own the family-operated business. Nasri says, “We all knew it would be hard work but it is good that the whole family can contribute.” The restaurant is young, open for only two years. It was an easy decision to locate in Blacksburg because of the large international community in the area. In addition, Nasri and his wife Jennie reside in Christiansburg, they both have other employment and they handle a lot of the business side of running the restaurant. Nasri’s sister, Mariana, also works in the restaurant and is responsible for accounting and inventory.
The interior of the restaurant is bright and colorful with a casual atmosphere. The menu is written on a chalkboard and laminated menus are available with full descriptions of each dish as well. In case you are not certain, pictures are displayed on the countertop as visual aids.
Aida Salamoun takes orders at the front counter and offers help with describing the menu items. She is quick to credit her daughter-in-law, who handles marketing and public relations, with the decor and logo design. After ordering, we took a seat and perused the menu for potential future visits. The menu contains many vegetarian and vegan options indicated with a “V” for vegetarian and a “V+” for vegan.
As an appetizer, we chose the Veggie Sampler entree because it provides a good selection of vegan menu items. Included in the sampler is hummus, baba ghanouj and falafel accompanied with pita bread, lettuce, tomato and pickles. The falafel, a menu favorite according to Jennie, are large and crisp on the outside while remaining velvety on the inside. The sesame flavors come through in the tahini, a sauce made of ground sesame seeds, and its saltiness brings out the milder flavor of the falafel. The baba ghanouj made from eggplant is mellow. The hummus was the winner. The dip was extremely creamy with a welcome drizzle of olive oil. The flavors were clean and unadulterated, not needing any additions.
Kirk is a fan of lamb so he selected the Lamb Kebab Plate, described as savory pieces of lamb, marinated and grilled to perfection. It includes two skewers served with grilled veggies, lettuce with dressing, pickles, hummus, pita bread and rice. After taking a bite Kirk says, “the lamb is really, really good. It isn’t gamey and it’s so tender.” The Mediterranean spices and tenderness of the meat are a hit, which is why it’s a customer favorite. Mrs. Salamoun says the meat for the kebabs is chosen carefully. Mr. Salamoun “only uses the tender pieces of the lamb for the kebabs and the ones that are not so tender are ground to make Kafta. The lamb is marinated for a few hours ahead of time and the rest is left up to spices used during cooking.” The grilled vegetables include green peppers, onions and tomatoes, and are all incredibly fresh.
My daughter and I selected wraps, the Ta-Wook and Chicken Shawarma. The Ta-Wook Wrap is seasoned grilled chicken (kebab-style) with fries, pickles, slaw and toom (garlic sauce) wrapped in pita bread. Ta-wook loosely translated means shish kebab. The chicken is so tender it could be shredded. The Chicken Shawarma Wrap is marinated grilled chicken with fries, pickles, lettuce and toom wrapped in pita bread. The wraps look almost identical but they taste completely different. The cut of the chicken is a visible unlikeness, the Ta-Wook is more like chunks, hence the kebab style in the description and the Shawarma is sliced. Another variation are the marinades used for the two types of chicken. Mrs. Salamoun tells us the chicken is marinated for at least 24 hours. This aids in the flavors being so addictive and also the tenderness of the chicken. For both wraps, the fries are on the inside and it makes you wonder why no one has thought of this before. The toom garlic sauce is a secret recipe of Mr. Salamoun’s. The sauce is vegan and definitely garlicky, but does not cover up the flavors of the chicken.
For dessert, we tried the Burma, which is a variant of Baklava. The shape is cylindrical and the texture of the puff pastry is reminiscent of shredded wheat. The pastry itself is mildly sweet and the pistachios on the inside almost taste candied. Google describes it as “a few layers of very thin phyllo dough placed on top of each other, dressed with nuts between the layers, wrapped around a rolling pin and creased around the pin by pushing. It is then dressed with butter, oven baked and sweetened with the syrup.” For baklava lovers, try it, it is very tasty but not as sweet.
Kirk chose the Turkish-style coffee after his meal. The coffee can be ordered by the shot or by the pot. The term Turkish describes the method of preparation, which is finely grinding the beans, pouring the hot boiling water over them and then allowing the grounds to settle. Typically, it is not served with sugar, but sweeteners are available should you choose. The coffee is strong but not bitter and served in a small mug (think espresso) and the serving size is adequate. The super-fine grounds left in the bottom of the mug look like melted chocolate, but don’t be tempted to drink.
Jennie Salamoun offers her perspective as an American who married into a Lebanese family: “If you’ve never tried Lebanese food then you may be intimidated, but it is basically all Mediterranean. There is no hot and spicy, only full flavors.” She encourages people to try it, reiterating that “It’s not scary but a rewarding and cool experience.” Check out this restaurant that thrives on word-of-mouth. It is located at 1301 S. Main Street in Blacksburg. Business hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Takeout is available by calling 540.315.9378.