Classic Red Hots Albasha
I've found a good amount of odd "hidden gem" restaurants in St. Louis, but I think this is the first time that I've found what is literally a hidden restaurant. Or maybe disguised is a better description. Classic Red Hots Albasha isn't invisible like Platform 9 3/4, of course. It's just not clear what you're getting yourself into. Driving past Classic Red Hots, it looks like nothing more than your standard strip mall hot dog shop. The sign over the door just says "Classic Red Hots." The window paint exclaims "corn dogs," "Italian beef," and "Philly steak."
But it's much more than that. Using my eagle vision, I noted a small sign in the top right of the window offering Mediterranean fare, with each dish written in Arabic and English. Most intriguing. I made a mental note to return the next week.
I step inside and my suspicions are confirmed: this restaurant is not just an American sandwich shop, but also a Middle Eastern restaurant. The decor ranges from Vienna Hot Dog billboards to paintings of far off Arab lands. The table patterns are distinctly Arabic, while the wall where you order is tiled with black and white, like a race card rally flag. My mind = blown (and slightly confused).
From what I gather, the restaurant was once simply a Classic Red Hots, serving things like corn dogs, Chicago dogs, and burgers. When the current owners bought it, they kept that aspect and added quick Middle Eastern food as well.
We discuss the menu with the owners at the counter and decide to start with their housemade hummus and kibbeh. The hummus is simple, tasting like when you make it at home, but the kibbeh is different story. Cracking open the crispy dough pocket, the heady smells of Middle Eastern cooking waft up into my face. Beef, richly spiced with cinnamon and allspice (if I'm not mistaken) is mixed with bulgur and packed inside these little crunch bombs. I dip it into the garlic-yoghurt sauce, and I am smitten. This is good!
I move on to the Sambousik, which seems to have the same beef filling, minus the bulgur. If the kibbeh is more like a samosa, this is closer to a Chinese wonton. Both are good, but I prefer the heartier kibbeh.
The deal of the day is clearly the moussaka. For $5.99, you get a gargantuan plate of food. The outer later is made up of fresh tomatoes, herbs, onions, greens. Under that are crispy fried slices of eggplant, which hide a hearty vegetable stew, chock full of more eggplant, onions, garlic, tomato, herbs, and I don't even know what else.
The main lunch dishes come next—one of which is a Chicago style hot dog. It's not something I would normally get, but I figured I might as well see if it was anything special. Nope, pretty much just your standard Chicago dog.
The beef and lamb gyro, on the other hand, was pretty damn good. Just a few weeks back I asked for gyro recommendations and almost all of them were in the city, or at least the eastern part of the county. The gyro gods have shined down upon me! The thing is massive (that's what she said), but more importantly, it's good. The meat is a mix of tender inner cuts and crispy outer slices. The sauce and toppings are all good. I'm enjoying.
The last thing we get is the kefta (kafta) burger—stop judging, a lot of leftovers are coming home with us—which is basically a Middle Eastern spiced burger patty with all your normal burger toppings.
We leave happy and full, amazed at yet another hole-in-the-wall international restaurant on good ol' Olive Blvd.