Don’t be put off or misled by the name Fufu’s.
The food at Fufu’s Mideast Grill in Riverside bears no kinship to slang term “foofoo,” typically used to describe something fancy, frilly or pretentious. The restaurant is an homage to the owner’s great grandfather Fouad (which means heart in Arabic), nicknamed Fufu.
This restaurant has both heart and soul, serving some of the best and most authentic Mediterranean food I’ve eaten. And it’s owned and run by a Berry fine family of Lebanese descent: Mark Berry; his wife, Iman; their son, Allie; daughter, Sarah; and their two nephews, Hassan and Rabeh.
Mark Berry was born and raised in Detroit but moved to Riverside in 1988 to open a Little Caesars Pizza. Even after expanding to own and operate 156 stores around the country, Berry dreamed of transitioning from pizza to pita, serving the Mediterranean cuisine of his ancestors.
In December, Berry opened Fufu’s Mideast Grill & Hookah Lounge in Riverside’s Mission Grove Plaza. The 2,000-square-foot restaurant and 900-square-foot hookah lounge occupy what used to be Pineapple Joe’s at 195 E. Alessandro Blvd.
The decor is spare and decidedly unfoofoo. There’s a single row of black, upholstered booths for parties of two to four, and one booth that seats six. That’s because take-out is a large part of the business, Allie, 23, said. Larger groups can dine on the front patio. After you order at the counter, Allie brings your food in foam containers with plastic utensils.
Using her recipes, the Lebanese-born Iman and her nephews start at 3 a.m. whipping up the food and baking her deliciously puffy pita. Everything is housemade except the bite-size grape leaves and baklava, which Allie said are too labor-intensive to create every day. If you want to explore a mash-up of dishes, let him fix you a smorgasbord. Appetizers are $3.95-$11.75, wraps $4.95-$6.45 and entrees $10.95-$12.95.
It’s worth the carbs for one of Iman’s flatbreads called zatar, $2.65-$3.69, which are served plain or topped with meat or cheese. Hot from the oven, these thin dough pies are coated with roasted thyme and olive oil and are Lebanese staples.
We decided to share a bunch of appetizers, so fresh and delicious they deserve more than two thumbs up. The baba ghanoush, cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, lemon juice and topped with extra virgin olive oil, was both creamy and chunky, flavored with the perfect pinch of garlic and salt.
Our friend Sandy’s favorite was the tabbouleh, a combination of minutely chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions, cracked wheat, extra virgin olive and lemon juice squeezed minutes before serving. Sandy said she loved how the bulgur was underplayed instead of used as filler.
I’m a hummusaholic, so I can say that if there were an Olympic competition, Fufu’s blend of chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic would get the gold. Chris, Sandy’s husband, said his shawarma wrap was packed with tender shreds of beef that were spiced, marinated and grilled. Likewise, my husband’s kebab wrap encased soft, well-seasoned pieces of juicy chicken.
The baklava, shipped from Dearborn, Mich., is light, flaky and subtle. If you prefer and have room for something heavier and sweeter, the fried Oreos might fill the bill.
The dinner check for four, including sodas, tip and leftovers: $40. Expect to see Fufu’s food trucks soon and, hopefully, franchises, Mark Berry said.
All meals for dining profiles are paid for by The Press-Enterprise.
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