Midwest Living Review
Downtown Traverse City has experienced many firsts in the past decade: a film festival, a culinary festival, a sushi restaurant and now Middle Eastern cuisine. Jordan native Nabiel Musleh moved his restaurant Zakey, which means "delicious" in Arabic, from the outskirts of town to Front Street in 2010. He taught himself to make his mother's recipes because, he says, he can't drive to the Middle Eastern community in Dearborn, Michigan, every time he wants Arabic food.Directly across Front Street from the Cherry Republic store, Zakey fills an intimate space with no more than 10 tables and an open kitchen behind the dining room. Customers can watch Nabiel grill his shish kabobs, smell the lamb roasting, and watch a live belly dancer gyrate and slither to traditional Middle Eastern music on Saturday nights -- all while Arabic MTV plays in a small television in the corner. Despite this, the ambience seemed less than authentic -- the decor covering the walls is supplied by Jordan's tourism agency.Zakey's meats are the highlight of the menu. Unless you're already an expert on Middle Eastern cuisine, try the combination platter: three skewers (one shish kafta, one shish tawool and one shish kabob: $14.99) on a bed of pita and garnished with grilled onions and tomatoes. All entrees include your choice of two sides: cucumber yogurt salad, Arabic salad, fattoush, tabbouleh or sauteed vegetables.The kabobs were excellent, as were the tabbouleh and fattoush salads that arrived with them. Our appetizers, though -- spinach pie, baba ghanoush and kibbeh -- could have used more spices. The baklava was good, and the rice pudding hit the spot. While Zakey may receive a lower grade when compared to Arabic eateries in Detroit and Chicago, this place is a welcome addition to Traverse City.