Souk Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar, it’s personal
Toledoans love restaurants. For restaurateurs who have made a name for themselves here, reputation is everything.
“Toledo seems to be a town that isn’t forgiving when you make mistakes,” said Chef Moussa Salloukh. “So you want to make sure to do your homework before opening a new restaurant.”
It’s a lesson he knows very well. Since opening his first restaurant, Moosey’s, in 1992 — “It was just a little pub on the corner of Jefferson and Huron. I was only 21, just barely old enough to drink” — to running the popular La Scola with Gus Nicolaidis — a 200+ seat Italian restaurant which closed last March when Nicolaidis retired— Salloukh has learned exactly how to make Toledo diners happy.
But with the forthcoming Souk Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar, his seventh restaurant— “Or is it my eighth? I’m not sure…” he stated with a smile— Salloukh is taking a decidedly different approach. This time, it’s not about business. It’s personal.
Finding the familiar
On the surface, the story of Souk feels familiar. The interior is sophisticated and elegant, and the upscale menu will feature Mediterranean fare. Nestled in the Warehouse District adjacent to the farmer’s market, Souk rides the exciting wave of Downtown Toledo’s redevelopment, but with a backstory inspired by deep influences.
“This is a new beginning for me. It’s more personal and passionate [than before],” explains Salloukh. “Souk is a tribute to my mother and my grandmother, the people who got me to grow and develop into the chef I am today. This is me, with my own palate, doing my own thing, and putting a different twist on the Mediterranean food that I grew up on.”
That “different twist” becomes apparent with a cursory glance of the menu, which features ingredients and flavors inspired by Salloukh’s ethnic heritage, but made using the techniques and ideas developed after spending decades working in professional kitchens.
At Souk, Arayes, a traditional lamb-stuffed pita, is served as an eggroll. Thinly-sliced Lebanese-style potatoes, which Salloukh fondly remembers his father frying alongside leftover kafta for breakfast, are now an elegantly plated dinner entree. The dishes represent transformed tradition, elevated nostalgia, and unique personality.
“My inspiration comes from my heart and culture,” explains Salloukh. “But [my culinary approach] also comes from a lot of hard work and education in the kitchen. It’s a combination of influences— from the heart, accomplished through technique.”
Embracing the difference
Ethnic heritage and the restaurant operations distinguish Souk along with a rotating menu heavily inspired by the neighboring farmers market, which originally drew Sallouk to the corner location. Souk’s dining room, with 72 seats, is also smaller and more intimate than his previous eateries.
“I was putting out great food when I had a restaurant full of 200 people, but I wasn’t able to put the type of love and attention into the plates that we will be able to here,” says Salloukh. “For my mother and grandmother, love is food and food is love. Dinner wasn’t just a meal, it was an event. That’s the philosophy that I grew up on and the one I am bringing to Souk.”
That important sense of familial comfort is found in every detail at Souk. In the kitchen, the staff will employ the practice of tasting— “My mom never had recipes, she never measured. You have to eat, taste, and work it until it’s right.” In the dining room, guests will be immediately met with a complimentary dish from the kitchen, like chickpeas roasted with sumac, olives, or a riff on the labneh balls (a creamy, fresh, Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yogurt and preserved in olive oil) Salloukh remembers his mother making.
“This is me on a plate,” says Salloukh. “And that gives me anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. When my sister [saw Souk for the first time], she teared up and said she felt our mom when she came in. There’s a comfort in that. It feels like my family is hovering over my shoulders, so I keep asking myself, ‘Would my mother do it that way?’”
His vulnerability, while visceral, is exactly what makes the intimate experience offered by Souk so profound.
“Putting this whole thing together has been scary as hell,” Salloukh admits with refreshing honesty. “But I have to be good with how I do what I do. I can’t worry about how people might compare it. I mean, I will, but I shouldn’t. That fear is what drives me to be better. It drives me towards perfection. Because if you let it, fear will make you do great things.”
Souk Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar 139 S. Huron St. will open soon, but a date has not yet been announced. For more information, visit facebook.com/SoukMediterranean.