59 Liberty Street
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|Opening hours||Dinner Tue-Sat 5pm-10pm|
|Features||BYO, Licensed, Cheap, Family Friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Call||02 9550 3458|
“Proudly serving Enmore for over 50 years.” The sign on the wall of the newly renovated Emma’s snack bar says it all.
In 1970, Lebanese immigrants George and Emma Sofy opened a “mixed” convenience store to serve the needs of the neighborhood. In the late 1980s, he was making sandwiches and Emma’s Lebanese food. Son Anthony took over as owner-chef in 1999 and opened a restaurant called Emma’s on Liberty, which later turned into Emma’s Snack Bar.
The evolution continues, with Emma reopening after four months of closure with a gleaming new commercial kitchen. The window-lined dining room is much the same, with a long communal table in the center, a mix of high and low tables, and a counter lined with stools. With a full house, it’s pure chaos and it only works because he has his own unique way of getting things done.
Take the wine list. You cannot, because there is none. Whatever you order will cost you $13 a glass, $32 a carafe, or $45 a bottle. You are not given wineries or varietals; just choices such as “crispy and tangy” or “floral and friendly” for the whites, and “ripe and meaty” or “light and spicy” for the reds. Everything you need, really.
Water is served from the tap on the wall. Staff walk in and out of the kitchen, clearing tables and then covering them again with more small dishes.
Behind the bar, Ethan Dinopoulos pours wine, shakes whiskey cocktails, takes phone orders, directs junior service staff and pushes takeout through the side window for locals and food delivery people on the outside sidewalk .
The food is advertised as “just good fresh Lebanese food”, which pretty much covers it. The hummus, the mortar that holds the bricks of Lebanese cuisine together, is thick and creamy ($13), bolstered by a pile of tear-and-dip Lebanese flatbread. It’s good with a crisp and refreshing Lebanese Almaza beer ($10) or a glass of fruity and aniseed Fakra arak ($10).
One of the big—and I mean big—orders is a ladyfingers service ($18), long filo cigars filled with hazelnut-spiced ground lamb, deep-fried and halved; great for a group.
The meaty stuff is meaty – order sausage, and you get sausage on sausage – but just as many dishes are devoted to vegetables such as cauliflower, pumpkin, cabbage, potato and eggplant, in accordance with traditional Lebanese home cooking.
A fattoush salad ($16) is colorful and crunchy with chilled cucumber from the fridge, tomato and fried bread, but doesn’t feel its best in the winter.
The house special Moorish Chicken ($25) is great for winter, as long as you’re as hungry as a horse. Grilled chicken thighs, marinated overnight in garlic toum, chilli and sumac, wrapped in Lebanese bread with garlic mayonnaise and red onion, then returned to the grill until until the bread is hard. Elegant, it is not. Warm and delicious and filling, it is.
And yes, Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Sauvignon Blanc is actually “floral and friendly,” and Redbank Pinot Noir is “light and spicy.”
So welcome to Emma. Best to go in a small group so you can cover the table with goodies. It’s best to order everything while you have a member of staff’s attention, as you may not get it anymore.
And better just take what you get even if you didn’t order it, and don’t worry about your real order not showing up at all.
Oh, and it’s not better to walk out thinking they don’t do dessert, then to see baklava and knafeh on a board by the door when you close it behind you.
Next, Anthony Sofy is looking to transform the upper floor, where the family lived for 40 years, into a new bar with the nostalgic name of Mixed Business. Looks like more organized mayhem is on the way, sustained by hummus. Excellent.
Essential dish Moorish chicken, $25
Drinks Arak, Lebanese beer Almaza, three whites, three reds, Lebanese coffee
Cost About $90 for two, plus drinks