By Anne O’Connor
PEPPERELL — A new Syrian restaurant in Pepperell is a feast for the senses.
A curving driveway, flanked by a sturdy stone wall, leads up the hill to Altali’s Mediterranean Bistro on Elm Street. A brand-new flag flies near the entrance.
Inside, signs of the former Scotch Pine Farm Restaurant have disappeared. The Scottish shop is gone, now a spacious entryway for the dining room beyond.
Linen-covered tables sit on a new wood floor, carefully treated to appear aged.
The menu and the food show the same eye for excellence.
“All the vegetables are fresh daily,” said owner Ned Altali. Nothing is ever microwaved.
The traditional Syrian fare is full of vegetables. Hummus dip, made from chickpeas; a grilled eggplant-based dip, baba ghannouj; tabouli, a cracked-wheat salad; and falafel, chickpea fritters are staples offered at Altali’s.
Grape leaves, peppers and zucchini are there for the asking, stuffed with a vegetarian mix or meat-filled.
The restaurant will be famous for its shawarma wraps, marinated beef or chicken on handmade, paper-thin bread, Altali said.
The seasonings include everything that he knows from home, but is not too strong, he said.
The flavors of the main ingredients shine through, complemented by the traditional lemon, mint, sesame and parsley accents.
In the kitchen, the cooks roll grape leaves by hand. The rice pilaf was on the boil, complete with browned noodles.
Dough for the meat pies rose in a warm spot. The deep-fryers were ready to prepare falafel and fried kibbeh, seasoned meat with cracked wheat.
Kibbeh is traditionally served raw, but not at Altali’s. The restaurant offers a baked version.
In Syria, his uncles owned restaurants, Altali said. He is half Syrian and half Lebanese and moved to the United States in 2000.
Family serving pieces, including a pitcher and platter, sit on the mantle in the dining room.
The bistro opened the weekend of April 8. Reservations were pouring in, just through word-of-mouth, Altali said.
More changes are in the works for the restaurant. Breakfast will be served on the weekend, beginning April 16.
For now, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. That may change as he learns which days are the busiest, Altali said.
Diners are welcome to bring their own alcoholic beverages. Altali is renovating another section of the building for a bar and plans to apply for a liquor permit in the future.
The grounds will also change. A petting zoo and ice cream stand are in the works to appeal to families.
Altali also plans to build a barn, complete with heat and air-conditioning for functions.
Then, he said, more restaurants could be in his future.
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