“How about some Turkish coffee?” That’s how Sabah Jabri greeted me and my husband on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon. It was the first day her Middle East-inspired menu was rolling out at Weathered Vineyard Tasting Room in Ephrata and she was understandably a little behind.
In between food prep, she had worked her day job as a teller at the New Holland branch of M&T bank that morning. While she assembled a platter of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, falafel and tzatziki sauce, her husband, Alaa, got to work preparing the coffee, scented with cardamom.
The Ephrata community had come to know Jabri’s food when she worked at the Ten Thousand Villages store, preparing the dishes of her native Iraq in the popular cafe. Ever since the cafe closed in 2018, Jabri had been looking for an outlet to keep the spirit of her cooking alive.
“I was heartbroken when the cafe at Ten Thousand Villages closed,” Jabri said. “People had been asking me to open a restaurant and yet I didn’t want the expense and full-time commitment.”
Jabri’s wish to keep cooking without a brick-and-mortar restaurant has come true. She’s partnered with Rebecca Gallagher, owner of the Historic Smithton Inn, where the tasting room is located.
The two met at an American Business Women’s Association meeting last November and hit it off right away.
“As soon as I met Sabah, I knew it would be a good fit,” Gallagher said in an email.
“If you’re going to partner with someone in a business venture like this, you have to like and respect each other, both personally and professionally, and we both had that from the start.”
In addition to the sampler platter we feasted on, Jabri’s menu is a mix of small plates, salads and sandwiches, including the garlicky fava bean dip known as ful medames ($5.99), chicken shawarma ($10.99) on pita and arayis, a griddled pita stuffed with ground meat ($10.99). Her Iraqi-style grape leaves, which I could have polished off single-handedly, are scented with allspice and filled with finely chopped vegetables (5 pieces, $5.99).
To go with that Turkish coffee, Jabri is serving her signature baklava, delightfully flaky and not too sweet, as well as a honey-sweetened semolina cake known as basbousa (both $2.99).
Sourcing ingredients for her menu is a two-part process, says Jabri. With the help of friends and family members around the country, including Michigan (which has an extensive Iraqi community), she’ll have ingredients shipped to Ephrata. Whatever she can’t source by mail, she’ll head to Tabarek International Foods on New Holland Ave.
It’s only been a few weeks, but Gallagher told me she’s already noticing an uptick in wine bar traffic. “Since Sabah started serving here, we’ve seen a jump in customers coming to Weathered Vineyards specifically to see Sabah and try her food,” Gallagher said. “My bartenders were a bit nervous that Mediterranean cuisine would be too ‘out there’ for Ephrata, but after trying it for themselves and seeing customer responses, they’re all excited and ‘on board.’
“Sabah has this wonderful energy that makes you want to be around her,” Gallagher said.
Jabri is happy to share that hospitality with the Ephrata community.
“We’ve been here 11 years,” Jabri’s husband, Alaa, told me. “Ephrata is our home now.”
And with Jabri’s cooking, the world just got a little smaller.¶