Last week my friend, Inda, a public school teacher, had been off from school for two days because of temperature concerns—not hers, but the weather’s. She’d used the extra time to clean several closets following the wisdom of the Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo, who heaps things onto the floor and asks of each item, “Do you bring me joy?” The answer determines which pile the item goes into: Pitch or Keep.
By the time Inda called me, she was weary of the household purification rite and was ready for some warm sustenance.
“How about lunch?” she said. “My daughter wrote me from Boston, saying she’d heard of a new place in The Grove called Sultan.”
“Sounds terrific! Let’s do it.” I’d been stuck indoors long enough, too, and ready to brave the polar vortex. I bundled up in my long, pillowy coat certified to minus-15 degrees below zero and off we went.
Headed for The Grove
We arrived at Sultan around 1:30, but there were still several tables of folks lingering over lunch. Three young ladies scurried about, cleaning and serving tables. I later learned they are the daughters of the owners Akram Saeed and Jenar Mohammed, from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, who resettled in St. Louis in the mid-80s after escaping Saddam Hussein’s oppression.
The couple had long hoped to open a restaurant. Mrs. Saeed’s cooking skills and the family’s willingness to help ultimately make the dream come true. Since locating at the corner on Manchester in The Grove, they’ve spent considerable time refurbishing the space.
To add authentic touches, they imported serving pieces, including a tea and coffee service from Kurdistan and light fixtures from Turkey. Wall hangings bring a colorful touch to the crisp, neat-as-a-pin interior. Chef Jenar explained to me that the pieces resembling cloth purses are actually pouches carried by herdsmen.
The extensive menu includes such Mediterranean and Kurdish delights as meaty kebabs, fattoush salad, lahmageen (a Mediterranean-style pizza), lamb shank, dolmas, baba ganoush, hummus, steam dumplings called sheeshbarak, biryani, gyro and falafel sandwiches and much more. I was especially interested in the Kufta meatballs, an off-menu item available only on weekends. Update: on a return visit I had the meatballs and also the saffron-flavored dessert cake. Both splendid.
You come away from Sultan with the distinct impression that this place is going to make it. First of all, they’re in an attractive spot in a thriving location. The restaurant has a homey, relaxed vibe, and an array of splendid dishes prepared with great pride. Diners are treated like guests of the family, with favorite meals prepared and served graciously on the best dinnerware.
Yes, Sultan Mediterranean ticks all the boxes. I like it when that happens.
Another bold, heartwarming immigrant story; another win for American enterprise.
Sultan Mediterranean, 4200 Manchester in the Grove. Open: 11:30a everyday, but Monday. Owners: Akram Saeed and Jenar Mohammed. Chef: Jenar Mohammed.