After a brief Christmas hiatus, Wake County 360 is back again. A reader suggested that we chat with Neomonde, a local Raleigh restaurant right between North Carolina State University and Meredith College on Beryl Road. So off we went and it was AMAZING!
When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by someone who looked like the owner, but a bit younger. I quickly realized that this had to be his son. While waiting on his father to wrap another appointment, Chris welcomed me, and grabbed a folder of old family photographs for us to peruse. Neomonde is celebrating its 35 year anniversary so the photographs from the late 1970s did not disappoint. There were photos of the original bakery which used jeweler cases to display breads and pastries. There were pictures of family members in the kitchen and out that were discolored with age. Chris fondly remembers when Neomonde first opened as a bakery, it was located near Nur Deli. He would visit and play Ms. PacMan while drinking mango juice. You know, the stuff childhood memories are made of.
However, Sam remembers those early days of Neomonde differently. After emigrating to America in 1975 from the small village in northern Lebanon, he and his family missed Lebanese food. It was nowhere to be found in Raleigh and that is what began their dream: make amazing bread that was as delicious as they had enjoyed at home. Sam’s uncle, who was the director of the NC Museum of Art at the time provided a little encouragement. Then, Sam, his mother, Cecelia, and his brothers all joined forces to start Neomonde, a small bakery offering their authentic bread to the Raleigh community. Since then, the little bakery off of Medlin Drive has turned into a huge operation consisting of a stand alone bakery facility in Morrisville that ships across the country and three deli locations in the Triangle that serve family recipes (Beryl Road, Strickland Road, and Chapel Hill Road). Here is a visual overview of the items in the grocery section of the Beryl Road deli section.
(Sidenote: At this point, only five minutes into our chat, Sam looks at me and says “he can sit with me if you like” and gestures for my son, who accompanies me on certain assignments. And if that wasn’t endearing enough, Sam is so genuine in his responses. Though his command of English is perfect, he has a slight hesitation as he selects the precise word he wants. In a world where we all seem to just talk and talk, this precision is something I really admire.)
He hopes that his customers can appreciate the “true” Neomonde as a family. They are constantly inspired by his mom’s teaching. Pictured below, she works daily to ensure quality control. Not only does she taste each dish to ensure that each one meets her standards, she also blesses them. Sam explained how staff members bring them over and allow her to actually place her hands over each one. I don’t know about you, but I would really prefer to eat at restaurants where each dish is blessed by a matriarch.
Neomonde is the real deal when it comes to a family-owned, local restaurant that serves really fresh food.
Sam says, “We don’t cook for the restaurant, we cook like we do for ourselves. We cook with a true meaning for the community.”
He also explained that everyone at Neomonde truly appreciates the recognition from the community in the form of awards because community matters so much to them. Sam remembers fondly the people who have been part of his life as customers for years. There are THIRD generation Neomonde customers visiting him regularly now. He says, “There is no transient feeling.” The dishes they cook are based on recipes that their family cooked in their hometown of Mazraat El-Toufah (meaning apple orchard). They simply cooked what they grew. Fun fact: the image behind Sam in his portrait above depicts the village itself.
He laughs at the current trend of organic produce. He says everything we made was organic by nature because we didn’t have chemicals in that era. Doesn’t that sound ideal?
After our short chat, Sam took me to the back to show me some of the kitchen and introduce me to Cecelia. Even though I knew I’d probably see fresh veggies being transformed into delicious food, it was still a huge treat to see in action! Piles of freshly peeled eggplant, a huge vat of boiling chickpeas (for hummus), fresh lettuces being rinsed, and juicy red tomatoes. I also got a glimpse of grape leaves being assembled, or Neomonde cigars as they are affectionately referred. At least one box of lemons gets juiced daily and everything is chopped by hand, just as home cooked goodness should be.
I truly felt like family during the hour I spent with the Salehs. Not only did everyone coo my little sidekick over and over, he was also kissed him more times than I could keep track of by at least three different people. We felt loved! Sam sent me with some food as well for good measure: roasted eggplant in tomato sauce, a lentil dish with caramelized onions, and some traditional hummus and tabbouleh. I wish it had lasted long enough to actually photograph but it was SO delicious. In an age when the “best” food is full of salt, sugar, and fat, it’s refreshing to eat food that is as wholesome as it is tasty.
As I was leaving and tying up some loose ends, he tells me I can call or text anytime. I *should* have hid my surprise at hearing text, but I didn’t. Lucky for me, he noticed my slip, looked at me and said, “Yeah, I’m cool, I text.” Touche, Sam, touche.
To plan a visit, check out Neomonde’s website by clicking here.
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