BEIRUT: The middle-class meal is one of the most elusive in Lebanon. The low-end eateries with basic fare are legion across the country, while top dollar establishments catering just to the wealthy abound as well.
But options thin considerably when diners look for a place catering to their own middle-of-the-road budget. Tucked away on a Gemmayzeh side street, The Hangout, which opened in December, is trying to help fill the gap.
With the warmth of traditional Lebanese architecture, a swanky touch of modern color and design and a broad, moderately priced menu, The Hangout is catering to Lebanon’s elusive middle-class demographic.
“My experience in the country is that I can’t eat well for under $100. It’s incredible, prices are really, really high,” said The Hangout General Manager Salim Heleiwa. “I wanted to do something that is affordable.”
In a restaurant business based as much on appearances as good eats, that may be a tough sell. Chain restaurants, or local restaurants designed to look like chain restaurants, are in vogue. Zaatar w Zeit and Classic Burger have a brand loyalty that has much of the mid-priced meal market cornered.
The Hangout is trying to counter that with something that feels as much Lebanese as it does international. The building the restaurant refurbished for its location is every bit traditional Lebanon, with high ceilings and decorative tiled floors. But inside, the old construction is enlivened with splashes of bright colors and light pastels, a prominent porthole window looking into the wine cellar. Unique chandeliers and an assortment of plush chairs look like the fusion of old and new the restaurant is trying to be.
Items on the menu follow the same trend, there are Lebanese staples and mezze that ground the menu in the country, but the international cuisine dominates with burgers, clubs, subs, pasta and salads livened up with modern additions such as fig, mango and goat cheese. House specials include the beef stroganoff and lamb shanks.
The Hangout offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Heleiwa said that the middle-class pricing was driven by necessity as much as interest: “We saw that the country is not in a very good situation; tourists are not coming in. We have to work with people living, here working here. So the main target was the average class, the middle class.”
“People will go out whatever is going on, but they don’t want to pay $80 to $100 for a meal,” he said.
In addition to finding a dedicated local customer base, his long-term business model lets the restaurant offer dishes at a more affordable price. Local ingredients and furniture also help keep the cost down. Dishes are in the LL15,000-30,000 price range and dinner can be had for under LL50,000.
“If you can stay in a place long term, you can do things inexpensively,” Heleiwa said. “The food people are getting is very high quality, and they can afford it.”
The Hangout is located at 187 Nahr Ibrahim St. in Gemmayzeh and is open from 9 a.m. to midnight. For more information call 01 566 234.