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Who Goes There? Tripoli

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This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a new regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.

Krieger, 7/10/08

Tripoli, the 35-year-old Lebanese restaurant, is an improbably grand presence on Brooklyn's otherwise low-scale Atlantic Avenue. With its dignified façade, tall streetside windows and ceilings that easily best neighboring eateries by 10 feet, it strikes awe in the uninitiated passerby. I always imagined it being the kind of place where Brooklyn mucketymucks make big deals over lunch. And yet, every time I've walked by, it's been nearly deserted, save for a suited man or two in a window seat (those businessmen?). What gives?

Well, if you want to keep being impressed with Tripoli, stay on the outside. Once you're inside, the vibe changes quickly from old-world elegance to a kind of kitschy dishabille. The front door leads to a luridly painted hallway that could be the entrance to a tacky basement discoteque. (There is, in fact, a "party room" downstairs available for rental.) Another set of doors to the left lead to the restaurant space. If you feel a bit seasick upon entering, it's no wonder. A quirky nautical design theme prevails. Maritime murals cover the walls. Thick ropes are incorporated into the décor, and, up some stairs, there's a mezzanine supporting a few tables that serves as the "bridge."

My very friendly and helpful waiter explained. Tripoli, which was founded and is still run by the Salem family, was originally located across Clinton Street on the opposite corner. After a fire in 1982, it moved into its present space, which used to be a seafood restaurant—thus, the watery theme. In fact, the gigantic wooden hull of a ship once dominated the dining area before it was removed.

What customers came into Tripoli the recent Thursday night I paid a visit veered quickly to the three window tables at the front. And why not? They make for peerless Atlantic Avenue people watching. The rest of Tripoli's many tables remained vacant, lending the large cavity a rather forlorn air. I asked the waiter about those lunching businessmen I dreamed up, but he said they come only "sometimes." Who else eats here? Based on the evidence in front of my eyes, young families with little kids. Word seems to have gotten out that—given the amount of space and the fact that reservations aren't exactly required—Tripoli is a place that came accommodate chattering, chair-climbing kids. Why, even the waiter's wife and baby showed up during the dinner hour and took up a table.

About the food, you'll get fair value and fresh product here. I was a little alarmed when they said they were out of the lentil soup I ordered. (What Middle Eastern restaurant runs of of lentil soup?) But the garlic-flavored hummus was yummy, and the Shish Taouk (grilled boneless chicken marinated in garlic) was light and tasty. A dessert arrived on the house, and the pitch-black Lebanese coffee smelled of cardamom. Service was quick and attentive, and prices are reasonable; even the seafood and steak dishes don't venture over $20. No beer or wine is served, but you can bring your own. The Salems own the building the restaurant is in, so they're not going anywhere. If you're in the mood for a quiet evening with your copy of the New Yorker, or want to have dinner without worrying whether your yapping progeny are bothering anybody, it's worth a try.
· Previous Installments of 'Who Goes There?' [~E~]

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