Walking into Cedar restaurant, open just 45 days in the heart of an eclectic cultural food zone, Monroe Avenue, was like walking into a lot of traditional cooking Middle Eastern homes. Smells of fresh olive oil, fresh oven-baked bread, olives and lemon juice made my mouth water.
Although I am Iranian-American, this simple, clean and welcoming Lebanese restaurant with its bright colors is exactly what I have been craving since moving to Rochester, a huge part of my cultural heritage—our cousin’s food is finally here! Now all Middle-Eastern Rochesterians can enjoy flavors taking them back to their ancestors’ kitchens. Our locals are loving this charming café-style mom and pop restaurant too!
“I have had 3 customers this week grab my hand for a kiss! It makes me so happy to know people are loving my cooking but I don’t like to be in the spotlight. People being happy with my food is good enough!” says chef Ghada Ghanatios.
What makes Cedar restaurant unique? The owner Eli Ghanatios, Ghada’s husband, both of Lebanese decent, have been living in Rochester since 1991, frequenting restaurants with their Lebanese-American family in free time. Their oldest daughter recently graduated from optometry school and works the front register taking orders.
I have a wide-open kitchen including the pita oven where you can see everything cooking from chicken and beef gyro meat to falafels and fresh bread, right in front of you! The shawarma bread is so hot, served fresh, you have to wait for it to cool down before a first bite!” He also prides himself for cleanliness as much as he does for the best baba ghanouj, hummus, tabouli and meats. “I have worked in restaurants where the floors are sticky and cleanliness is not a priority and that’s completely opposite the standard I have for our kitchen. It’s as clean as the food and you can see it here!
The food lives up to Eli’s claims. No lentil soup ever like the one there, the lemon was fresh squeezed and just the right amount! The bread was the freshest dough I have ever had in a middle eastern restaurant and the chicken shawarma was filled with well-seasoned, moist meat and lots of vegetables. I will be a frequent visitor. Exactly what I was craving in Rochester to feel at home!
Eli says his wife Ghada Ghanatios’s 30 years of cooking is the inspiration for the business. “She is so passionate about it. Every time we have guests in our home, they have been asking us to start a restaurant and we have been looking it for years! I was never expecting to have such a great location, where I am able to offer the best value for the food. So many people have come, open to trying something completely different!”
Eli welcomes more Rochester youth and all people with an adventurous palate. He says the lentil soup is especially delicious in the cold winter months and everyone should try it. I agree! To top off the open kitchen and cultural diversity added to Monroe Avenue, he says he would love to give back to a Rochester charity in the future!
Lucky for Rochester, we have a warm, cozy place to run to this winter for some delicious Middle Eastern food, with a heart to keep it clean, fresh and give back to the community.
Thanks Eli and Ghada!