Woodbees: A Paradise for Health Foodies and Tree Huggers Alike
The food scene across Beirut beckons reproach for dullness and repetition. From the ranks of the casual eatery to the upper echelons of the swanky restaurant, you’ll find the same trite goat cheese salad with walnuts and fig jam, or a banal beef burger with a slab of breaded mozzarella. How about chilled shrimp atop a bed of guacamole, or a quinoa-halloumi-cranberry salad? I can name at least a dozen joints that feature the foregoing in their menus.
Wherever you go, you’re bombarded with the same combination of tastes and flavors to the point that differences across venues begin to blur. Which is why my husband and I have curbed our once-adventurous spirit of trying new places, because disappointment has become almost certain.
So when Woodbees opened along the Zalka highway, nestled between Wooden Bakery (its parent company) and KFC, our curiosity was limited to the interesting cube-like structure of the building and its sky-high ceiling. And that was it. We didn’t even form a notion of what the restaurant’s specialty is.
That all changed last Saturday. The wanderlust bug had bitten us, and we found ourselves seated at one of the solid wooden tables in the corner of the restaurant. A warm greeting at the door, the freedom to sit wherever we chose, and a very picturesque menu placed before us as we settled in were all positive harbingers.
The menu booklet is extremely easy to leaf through: the first page features hummus, baba ghannouj and fries; then there’s the sandwich selection, both Lebanese and continental; a half dozen or so salads; and desserts. Detailed descriptions of each item accompany high-resolution photograph images.
|Parmesan truffle fries, perfectly crisp and only 7,000 LL!|
|Olive oil-drizzled hummus comes with kaak breadsticks and a loaf of Arabic pita|
On the table, there are no gaudy bottles of ketchup or mustard slick with greasy fingerprints. Instead there are hygienic ketchup packets next to the napkins. In the center of the restaurant, there’s a living olive tree that lends a rustic feel to the space and somehow stimulates your appetite.
|An olive tree animates the space|
|The restaurant is characterized by an open kitchen and a sky-high ceiling|
We ordered two salads to start, and within mere minutes, they arrived on separate round wooden trays with individually-wrapped utensil kits, our drinks, and recyclable paper cups. The salads ushered forth in a firm compostable white ovoid bowl covered with a thin transparent cover and a slip-on banner noting every ingredient. Woodbees has definitely mastered the concept of “the devil is in the details,” and suffice it to say, their nifty packaging is downright attractive and adorable.
|Woodbees uses recyclable material|
|How cute are the vials of salad dressing!|
The Roasted Veggie Salad (14,000 LL) is a colorful medley of roasted zucchini and carrot coins, baby potatoes, red bell peppers, and creamy globs of pesto-feta all atop fresh spring lettuce. On the side come two vials of a pesto-lemon dressing. Wholesome, filling, and evocative of countryside goodness.
|Roasted Veggie Salad|
For Greek salad lovers, the Olive Garden (14,000 LL) will hit the spot. Cubes of feta rolled in dried oregano along with marinated olives and walnuts make this a healthy, well-balanced vegetarian option.
|Olive Garden Salad|
Our appetites were intensely whetted as the sandwiches, which we’d requested cut in half, landed on our table. Each half was individually wrapped and labeled for contents—again, note the attentiveness to detail!
|Individually wrapped and labeled sandwiches|
We dove into the Woodbees Kebab (6,500 LL), which confirmed our belief that you should always pay homage to the namesake dishes on a restaurant’s menu. Tender grilled kebab accompanied by warm chunks of halloumi, a generous slather of muhammara, roasted tomatoes and lettuce bound in a wholewheat pita. Genius creation.
|Woodbees kebab is a must|
Up next was the Prosciutto Brie (12,000 LL) inside a fresh-baked, seed-crusted panini loaf. The interplay of blueberry compote with brie is deliriously good, but it overwhelms the presence of prosciutto and grilled asparagus. While I appreciated the generosity of this number, I would actually eliminate the cured meat altogether, because it cannot compete with the buttery French cheese.
|Prosciutto Brie sandwich|
The BBQ Chicken (12,000 LL) layers slices of grilled chicken breast, beef bacon, grilled red bell peppers, pickles and melted cheddar inside the signature loaf. It’s tasty, but I’d nix the BBQ sauce in favor of chunky tomato salsa and possibly a lick of guacamole.
|BBQ Chicken sandwich|
At this point, we were sated, but Woodbees is clever in that it packages desserts in portions that are just right post-meal (think PF Chang’s $2 dessert shots in the USA). We couldn't resist!
The red velvet (5,000 LL) marries a slightly moist crumb with light whipped cream. It is divine without being sinful.
|Red velvet cake|
Both panna cotta cups (5,000 LL) easily take home the cake. The custard-like consistency is spot-on, and the cloyingly sweet top layer—whether it’s chocolate with whole hazelnuts or blueberry and its coulis—is just right.
|Berry panna cotta|
|Chocolate hazelnut panna cotta|
Both the restaurant manager Joseph and assistant manager Marcel dropped by to make sure everything was to our liking—and it was.
Woodbees hits every mark in my book, from delicious and original edibles to pleasant service; a comfortable, clean environment; and excellent value (where else can you find a bottle of water for 1,000 LL or soda for 2,000 LL? Here’s hoping it stays that way!). It’s a brilliantly thought-through concept that will thrill health gurus and tree-huggers alike.
My only regret is not having discovered it sooner.
Zalka Highway (northbound)