The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Poco Piatti, the Mediterranean eatery in the Levis Commons Shopping Center, is the excellent service. Well, you might first notice the long, recessed bar, stocked with every liquor. But the service comes quickly thereafter. A waiter, Zak, showed me to a table and set me up with a drink and a bread basket full of puffy pita triangles, fresh out of the oven, an excellent beginning to a fascinating conversation with the owner and chef, Elias Hajjar.
“You have to love hospitality”
“Poco was originally opened 15 years ago on Monroe St., by my father, Labib Hajjar (co-owner of the Beirut restaurant) and Joey Skaff (from Star Diner),” the younger Hajjar tells it. “In the meantime, I had come home from college and was working at the Beirut and my father thought it would be a good idea for me to go to Poco. I ended up buying Joey out and decided to move [to Levis Commons]. We’ve been here 11 years.” Hajjar studied Hospitality Management in college, but it’s the experience he gained from his father that he considers his true education. “I learned more in the 15 years working with my father than I did in the three-and-a-half years of college,” Hajjar explained of his time busing tables and working at Beirut. “You can’t really learn hospitality from a book.”
A mixed plate
The restaurant, a large space with tables, booths, a full bar and an event area, is set in the mix of retail shops, great for a light and healthy lunch or an evening date. The menu is eclectic, offering traditional Mediterranean cuisine, like kabobs or lamb chops with innovative gourmet fare such as their delicious chicken or lamb sliders or Eggplant Rollotini. “When we opened Poco, we enlisted the help of an Italian chef from Florida. He brought some of the Italian, Spanish and Greek, we brought the Lebanese.” Poco is great for vegetarians or people with gluten issues, offering an abundance of foods choices with no meat or flour. While the majority of the recipes come from his family, Hajjar travels to try different restaurants around the country to see what would work for his customers in NW Ohio. There’s a lot to pick from menu-wise, but when it comes to customer choice, the most popular dishes are the basics: the hummus, the grape leaves and the Saganaki Kasseri, a Greek cheese flamed tableside.
For Poco Piatti, it has always been about the basics. “The restaurant has evolved over the 11 years from what it was intended to be, to what it is now. It was intended to be strictly a tapas restaurant with small portions and it’s morphed into not only tapas, but larger plates and larger-portion appetizers,” said Hajjar. The change came after he observed how guests were eating “family style,” everyone sampling from several dishes, and he wanted to accommodate them, making sure the portions were large enough so everyone got a bite or two. “It’s not easy running or owning a restaurant. Some people look at it as a glamour job, but it really isn’t. You’ve got to enjoy it to be good at it. It’s not something you can do on the side and hope it takes off. You’ve gotta put the time in and make sure the products come out consistently and the staff is doing what they need to be doing. But I love coming to work every day and not knowing what to expect,” said Hajjar, who admits that it isn’t uncommon for him to be at the restaurant six or seven days a week. If that’s what it takes for Poco Piatti to maintain this level, we say, “Keep up the great work.”
Ingredients: – 20 16-20 Black Tiger Shrimp (peeled and deveined) – 1-2 cups Asti-Spumante – Tbsp Chopped Garlic – Oil – Tbsp Butter – Salt and Pepper Directions: – Add oil to a large saute pan and place shrimp in pan – Cook for a about 1 minute and turn shrimp – Add fresh garlic and Asti and bring to a boil – Add butter to reduce sauce & serve with chopped parsley