Dining » Fat Mouth

Strange Arrangement

Cue the freaky music: this combined Mediterranean restaurant and fried-chicken place should have been named The Twilight Zone.

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Sometimes, as a food writer, I feel as though I'm traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a world of meals both delicious and inedible, of soothing service and power-mad hostesses. There are times that I want to slow down and eat only saltine crackers and fresh fruit, but, no, I'm trapped on this highway to heartburn and high cholesterol. And sometimes I barely notice the signpost up ahead that warns me that my next stop is ... the Twilight Zone.

Submitted for your approval: Café Cedar, a Middle Eastern restaurant that for several years occupied a brick building in Parkville's English Landing shopping center. Last January, the owner, Jehad Salah, moved Café Cedar out of its location at 160 South Main Street and across the railroad tracks to 2 East Second Street, in the riverboat-shaped building that most recently had been home to The Skillet Chicken and Fish House. Salah owns both operations, so it was easy enough to fold the two concepts — all-American fried chicken and traditional Middle Eastern cuisine — into one.

He didn't remove any of the Skillet's country décor — lace curtains woven with a festive fowl pattern, an embroidered barnyard tapestry. Instead, he creatively enhanced it with Café Cedar's shiny brass plates embossed with images of Ramses II and Nefertiti.

The good news for fans of The Skillet's cornmeal-battered fried chicken is that the combined restaurant, now called Café Cedar at the Skillet, still gives customers the bird, complete with mashed taters and vegetables. But Salah also has imported the complete Café Cedar menu, only now the lamb kebabs and beef kafta are served on shiny metal skillets.

Even the late Rod Serling's vivid imagination couldn't have come up with this restaurant's salad bar. It's arrayed with the usual vegetables and dressings — along with hummus, pita bread and lentil soup — but is displayed on the surface of a little red automobile cleverly adapted to be a cold buffet line. There are steel warming pans heaped with fried chicken, spaghetti and, supposedly, scrambled eggs. I say supposedly because the day I was there, they never materialized. There was something called "pita pizza" that my friend Bob called "the worst possible mix of two culinary cultures."

The modest dessert selection includes both baklava and apple pie but, alas, not a combination of the two — an applava? — which might make a sweet goodbye to ... the Twilight Zone.

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