It’s just a block away. But it’s a big shift in responsibility for Ammar Mannaa.
The longtime owner of Mediterranean Palace at Freighthouse Square will open an outpost a block from the restaurant that his family has operated since 1989. Mannaa expects to open Ammar’s Mediterranean Grill sometime in the next month at 409 E. 26th St.
He’ll continue to operate his Mediterranean Palace at Freighthouse Square. That’s quite the task for a business with just a few employees, but Mannaa said he believes with the addition of LeMay - America’s Car Museum, this is the right time to expand in the Dome neighborhood.
In 1989, Mannaa’s brother opened Mediterranean Palace at Freighthouse Square in the food court that’s long been a culinary mishmash and a small-restaurant incubator. Turnover is high and restaurants with shaky concepts and food tend to disappear quickly. Conversely, the fittest from Freighthouse survive and thrive. Celebrity Cake Studio outgrew its Freighthouse space and moved to a much larger nearby retail space. Ali’i and Sumo’s Hawaiian Grill in Parkland and La Fondita in Proctor both started at Freighthouse.
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While some restaurants move on, some stay and duplicate, like Wendy’s Vietnamese, which opened an outpost on Tacoma Mall Boulevard while maintaining its original Freighthouse location. Mannaa said he intends to follow that model. He’ll stay at Freighthouse for one very important reason: his longtime customers. “I have very high demand for my food,” said Mannaa in a phone interview.
Think of his new restaurant Ammar’s as Mediterranean Palace at its core, but more expansive. He’ll streamline his Greek menu and add more Mediterranean dishes. Diners will see Italian on the menu.
He expects to serve a lunch menu with pricing similar to what he offers at Mediterranean Palace – $10-$12 – and a dinner menu that will top out at $14-$20. Ammar’s will seat between 60-70 diners in the 1,400-square-foot space. Mannaa said his new restaurant won’t be fancy, but it will be a different style of dining. While his Freighthouse restaurant is order-at-the-counter and find your own seat in the food court, Ammar’s Mediterranean Grill will offer table service in a sit-down dining room. He’s planning a small bar with eight seats. He’ll sell beer, wine and cocktails.
The staff will be small – a few employees beyond Mannaa, as well as his wife, Sorada, whom he credits with improving all his recipes. “If I make a spaghetti sauce, she’ll improve it. She always puts her touch in it. She’s improved our business a lot.”
While Sorada is back in the tiny kitchen improving the recipes, Mannaa is the smiling greeter at the counter – as he has been since he took over the business from his brother not long after he opened the restaurant in 1989.
I paid a recent visit and found the food just as impressive as when I reviewed it in 2009: crisp vegetables (Mannaa said he hand picks his produce daily) and meats heavily flavored with lemon, garlic and olive oil. Mannaa makes quite possibly the best shrimp kebab ($10.29) I’ve ever enjoyed: plump, sweet shrimp with a touch of flame char, served over rice, with a side salad dressed with a tahini dressing and vinaigrette. Simple and delicious.
Ammar’s Mediterranean GrillWhere: 409 E. 26th St., TacomaOpening: Sometime in the next monthCurrent location: Mediterranean Palace inside Freighthouse Square, 430 E. 25th St., Tacoma; 253-272-0845, palacemediterranean.com