his article was originally published at the Detroit Free Press by Mark Kurlyandchik and can be found their website.
Dearborn’s Al Ameer became Michigan’s first restaurant to receive the James Beard America’s Classics Award, the prestigious culinary foundation announced this week.
Lauded as “one of the nation’s most welcoming introductions to the pleasures of Lebanese cuisine,” Al Ameer Restaurant joins the nearly 100 restaurants that have received the distinction since 1998. Each year, eateries from around the country are selected as America’s Classics for their “timeless appeal” and “food that reflects the character of their community.” Recipients must be locally owned and in business for more than 10 years.
Opened on West Warren in 1989 by Khalil Ammar and Zaki Hashem, Al Ameer was one of the first restaurants to serve Middle Eastern food in east Dearborn. The eatery has since expanded to two more locations, one in Dearborn Heights and another in Canton that opened earlier this year.
“The award obviously is a very prestigious award and we’re honored and blessed to have been recognized,” said general manager Abbas Ammar, son of co-founder Khalil Ammar.
Ammar attributed the accolade to the fact that either his father, his business partner, or another invested family member can be found in the restaurant every day.
“You can come in at any time of the day and you’ll see one of us standing there with an apron on,” he said. “We’re not absentee owners by any stretch.”
That translates to a steadiness that’s rare in an almost three-decade-old institution.
“We stay true to our roots and we stay as consistent as possible,” Ammar said. “Those are the keys to success in any restaurant.”
In a news release, the James Beard Foundation praised Al Ameer for its “unfailingly warm servers,” who can differentiate between a fattoush and Lebanese salad or offer a crash course on the sprawling 10-plate maza. The culinary foundation also singled out the restaurant’s take on sujuk sausage (“vivid with paprika and cumin”) and the shredded lamb (“rich with almonds, yogurt, and rice”).
Al Ameer will be recognized at the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago on May 2. It could be joined by a few fellow Michigan chefs who have been named semi-finalists in other awards categories: James Rigato’s Mabel Gray in Hazel Park is up for Best New Restaurant; Garrett Lipar, former chef at the now-closed Torino in Ferndale and Marais in Grosse Pointe, is up for Rising Star Chef of the Year; and Nick Janutol of Forest in Birmingham and Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard in Detroit are both up for Best Chef Great Lakes.