“Imagine you’re sitting down to eat kebabs with your Lebanese grandmother for the first time...now imagine we’re your grandmother.”
That’s the idea behind Kirby Club, the latest Middle Eastern marvel from Michelin-starred Maydan and Compass Rose owners Rose Previte and Mike Schuster. Kirby Club’s 75-seat inaugural location with a seasonal patio out front opened in Fairfax’s Mosaic District on Tuesday, December 20 (2911 District Avenue, Suite 140). Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. to start.
The inviting menu kicks off with homemade breads and spreads (hummus, grilled red pepper, olive-walnut); snacks and sides (turmeric rice, an escarole and red cabbage salad, and pickled vegetables); and all sorts of kebabs, combo plates, and picnic-style platters. Middle Eastern spices sprinkled across the menu also show up at the bar. Sumac and Aleppo salt meet tequila and mango in a “Wanderer of WANA,” while za’atar from local Palestinian purveyor Z&Z gets infused into gin to make a uniquely dirty martini. The wine list embraces small producers in Lebanon, Georgia, Spain, and Slovenia, and all selections come by both the glass and bottle.
Kirby Club’s Egyptian-American executive chef Omar Hegazi comes with a background running Egyptian chain cafe Zooba in New York City and working as sous chef at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown and Zaytinya in Texas. Kirby Club takes the place of Jinya Ramen, which has since relocated within the buzzy dining complex.
Inspired by the communal menu that Maydan introduced for takeout during the pandemic, the breakout brand was originally supposed to be called Tawle (“table” in Arabic).
Kirby Club carries a bit more meaning, referring to the Lebanese-American social club that Previte’s grandparents and their friends founded in Akron, Ohio in 1933. Their mission: to preserve Lebanese immigrants’ heritage while fully embracing life in America.
“Growing up here, to make Lebanese food you had to make substitutions and lean into that a little bit,” she says. “It’s a story of immigration [while] holding on to our roots.”
With that, the menu remixes a few American favorites with Middle Eastern flavors. Fried Brussels sprouts are tweaked with basterma (cured beef) and a pomegranate glaze. Crinkle fries come dressed with za’atar, whipped feta, and apricot marmalade.
Hegazi contributes lots of personal touches from Egypt and Turkey. In his native Cairo, street stands build falafel with fava beans over chickpeas. So he subs in beans at Kirby Club, too. A pickled eggplant salad, jazzed up with tomato, pepper, and cilantro, also conjures memories of home. “I grew up eating it in my fridge,” he says.
Another thoughtful starter is an oven-baked “tepsi” kebab comprised of handmade beef and lamb patty.
“In Turkish, it means the ‘tray’ that came around when people didn’t have access to a grill but wanted to make kebabs,” he says. “We’re trying to showcase kebabs in different ways, not necessarily just chunks of meat, skewered and grilled.”
Six different types — beef and lamb kofta, dukka shrimp, Aleppo-spiced steak, oyster mushroom with chermoula, and lamb and chicken shish — help assemble a “kebab shindig” platter ($75). Party favors include hummus, minty yogurt, Kirby’s salad, pickled eggplant, sumac onions, turmeric rice, and a spread of sauces. The same kebabs also appear in a variety of set combo plates for one.
“We recognize people don’t always want to share,” says Previte.
Sauces also play a starring role across the menu. There’s creamy toum (garlic, lemon), pink tahina (beets, sesame), sweet and spicy harissa (red chili and dates), savory chermoula (saffron, parsley, cilantro); earthy ezme (tomato, pepper, urfa pepper), and spicy zhough (green chili, garlic).
A section of family-style “picnic platters” speak to Istanbul’s popular Sunday pastime and Kirby Club’s biggest event of the year (Mahrajhan) that’s all about food and dancing outdoors. Feasts center around two proteins: whole roasted chicken or beef ribs, joined by snacks, spices, and lots of dippers. Or, go half and half. Come spring, Previte envisions the sprawling patch of grass right outside to come to life with to-go picnic spreads.
Previte says Kirby Club’s look is going for “subtle ’70s” to celebrate the decade her parents got married and the social club’s peak era. Accents include a tie-dyed glass facade and retro wallpaper.
There’s also a robust spirit-free section to cater to family-friendly suburbia. Previte reports her six-year-old nephew is an early fan of Kirby Club’s sparkly Minty Limeade. Other refreshers (which can be augmented with alcohol) include a mango cooler with orange blossom and lime and “chamomile cha” with black tea, chamomile, ginger, lemon. The sole dessert to start is vegan date soft serve.
A second area Kirby Club will open in Clarendon in the new year.