By Cara Roberts Murez
For The Register-Guard
MARCH 4, 2015
When Ibrahim Hamide opened his second restaurant — Cafe Soriah — nearly 21 years ago, he hoped to have a “stealth” opening with a small number of patrons while he worked out any problems that might need to be fixed.
But word leaked that the owner of Casablanca was opening another restaurant.
“We were slammed from the first night,” Hamide said. “And it seemed it never really stopped.”
That was true until about 2007 or 2008, Hamide said, when the recession hit his business. But Cafe Soriah has kept going, rebounding as the economy has been improving. The local mainstay continues to serve Mediterranean and some Middle Eastern specialties.
Hamide didn’t always intend to make his life in the restaurant business. Originally from Palestine, the area where his family lives was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War when he was 17 years old. At 19, he came to the United States to attend the University of Oregon. His plan had been to get a degree and then return home.
Instead, in the years after he left college in 1973, Hamide managed the dining rooms at Sunriver Resort lodge and then Mammoth Mountain Inn in California, helped open and manage the now-closed La Primavera in Eugene, and then started his own restaurant, Casablanca, in the Fifth Street Public Market.
Hamide ran Casablanca for 33 years. He also owned Cafe Zenon from 2009 until he moved Casablanca there in 2013, calling it Dalia on Broadway. Dalia closed a year later.
Hamide is married to Maha Khawaja. He has three children, daughter Soriah and son Naseem, both in their 30s, and daughter Dalia, age 13.
Question: How would you describe Cafe Soriah now?
Answer: Cafe Soriah now is sort of a mature, well-established restaurant that’s definitely been an institution of a sort. It’s to people still a fine-dining restaurant, which I sometimes fight that image. ... We do food very well. We’re proud of it. But you don’t have to get dressed up. You don’t have to wait for a birthday or an anniversary or a graduation or Valentine’s to come in. This is just really good, nutritional food, nonpretentious, a lot of original recipes from the Middle East, a lot of ones that I’ve created myself. You’re not going to find this food anywhere else.
Question: How much of your menu is Middle Eastern or Mediterranean?
Answer: It’s Mediterranean. It’s not Lebanese. It’s not Jordanian. It’s not Egyptian. So, basically, we really take a license that anything that borders the Mediterranean (can be included). So we’ll do French and Spanish and Italian and Middle Eastern and some North African, Moroccan, etc.
What I really like about it is that it has just a tremendous variety of tastes and it is very, very good for you. It is the diet your nutritionist would recommend to put you on if you’re interested in having a healthy body.
Question: What are you serving that is healthy?
Answer: Olive oil, garlic, lemon juice. Those are the staples of the Mediterranean. But, as you well know, the Fertile Crescent, named the Fertile Crescent because it did have the variety from apricots and olives and almonds to anything you can think of as far as vegetables — zucchinis and cucumbers and tomatoes and all that — and a lot of it is based in vegetarian cooking, but it’s not boring vegetarian.
In other words it is not made up. It is authentically that way.
Question: What are some of the most popular things that you serve?
Answer: The calamari and the Steak Diane are definitely by far the biggest sellers. People rave about our calamari. We have testimonials, “Hey, I’ve traveled everywhere. I had it in Spain and Italy. This is by far the best. It does not need an aioli or a dip. It’s just delicious the way you make it.” It’s something I invented. I invented that dish one evening when I didn’t know what to eat.
Question: You have a full bar, as well. What is special about your bar?
Answer: In the ’90s, when we had superstars for bartenders at that time ... I wanted to institute fresh-squeezed juices. I think we were maybe the first. If not the first, we were definitely some of the very first people that cut the orange, cut the lime, after you ordered. We did not pre-squeeze a pitcher of lime juice. … There’s no substitute for that.
Question: You serve only dinner?
Answer: We did lunch for quite a while. And we took a break in the last four or five years. I have had a lot of pressure on my shoulders lately with people going, “We really love your courtyard, especially in the summertime, can you reopen for lunch?” Those thoughts are floating in my head so, depending on whether we expand, there may be a change.
Question: You might expand?
Answer: We might. We have the opportunity knocking on our door to get another 650 square feet next door because our neighbor is retiring. So, we are in the process of evaluating what that takes. If we end up making that move, it almost will guarantee a brunch on the weekend and some lunch, maybe not five days or six days or seven days, but a certain number of days for that.
Cara Roberts Murez is a freelance writer who lives in Eugene.
Address: 384 W. 13th Ave., Eugene
Contact: 541-342-4410, www.soriah.com
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily for dinner. Bar open until at least midnight.
Menu: A variety of Mediterranean and some Middle Eastern specialties, featuring fish, shellfish, lamb, chicken, game and vegetarian cuisine. A full bar with juices squeezed fresh to order.
“The calamari and the steak Diane are definitely by far the biggest sellers. People rave about our calamari. We have testimonials... ”
— Ibrahim Hamide, Cafe Soriah