South side sensation

Heidi Grieser and Heidi Grieser

South Side Six, a carryout located on the corner of Napoleon and South Main streets, offers more than the usual beer and cigarettes.

So Shaheen, owner and manager, stands behind a counter covered with bags of fried and seasoned pita chips, baklava and containers of hummus and grape leaves. Behind him hunks of seasoned beef, lamb and chicken spin on gyro cones that keep them sizzling and adds to the uniquely spiced smell that pervades the restaurant.

So and his wife, Amal, bought the carryout in 1992, and from day one had a vision to serve Lebanese food. Finally, in August 2004, that dream became a reality.

South Side Six now offers deli and bakery items, sandwiches such as gyros and falafel, salads and munchies including wings and onion rings. They also cater for large events and sell party trays.

Back in the kitchen of South Side Six, a cousin of So’s named Eman Shaheen makes meat, cheese and spinach pies called Fatayer, while her young daughter washes dishes. Eman learned the recipe, which isn’t written down, from her mother in Lebanon.

“I don’t put like one tablespoon, I just throw it in, some people measure but I don’t. Every time I make them, I learn a bit more,” Eman explained. “Now I think they’re perfect. My daughter is learning with me. She’d rather help than sit at home.”

While she deftly spread the dough and filled pies, she explained how the food ends up tasting so good.

“Onions and garlic. Without them, our Lebanese food would taste like nothing,” she said.

Eman begins listing ingredients off the spice rack.

“Cayenne pepper, 7 spice, cumin, citric acid, mint, sumac – oh.” She stops to explain she couldn’t find the sumac earlier, and grabs it off the shelf, adding it to her mixture.

“Whoever buys the last ones will have the sumac in them,” she said. “Pakistanis use a lot more spices. I went to a store in Pakistan, and I thought we had a lot of spices, but no.”

So and Amal make trips up to Dearborn, Mich., to find a lot of the ingredients they use in their food. So explained there are a few differences between making these dishes at home and for a restaurant.

“If you just need a few things you can go to the Tiger Market or something like that in Toledo,” he said.

So learned all the tricks of the trade and recipes he uses from his cousins, who run carryouts in Toledo. Born in Findlay, So is familiar with the area, although he spent most of childhood and a few years as an adult in Lebanon.

“This has been a good community to raise a family and with this last conflict in Lebanon, a number of people called, were supportive and wanted to make sure everyone over there was okay,” he said.

South Side Six is open until midnight on weekends and serves a lot of students, but they also have quite a few regulars.

Don Shull, an 82-year-old Bowling Green resident, has been coming to South Side Six since they built the original carryout at least 50 years ago.

Shull tells of a ceremony he attended at the Bowling Green Elks Club where he was honored for being a 56-year member. So smilingly listened to his tale and said, “his wife crocheted a blanket for my firstborn.”

“During Homecoming every year, four or five people will come in and go through their memories, say they used to work here, or come here and point out what’s changed in the store,” So said.

University student Lindsay Gadberry said, “I used to live close by, but now we drive across town to come here. I come because Naj, [So’s brother-in-law and employee] is so friendly.”

Another student, Ali Macharia, said “It’s got everything, and it’s not very expensive for the average student.”

South Side Six has a lot of diverse products. In one corner is a cigar humidor, in a side room is a beer case featuring one of the best import selections in town, and on top of the cigarette case are Argelehs or hookahs with tobacco and charcoal.

Sensitive to their close proximity to student apartments on Napoleon Road, there are also toiletries and food supplies. And every Thursday they offer one of the cheapest meals in town – three gyros for $3.99.

John Findling, a regular customer said, “I came here a while ago by accident for the three gyros for $3.99. I had one for dinner, one for lunch and one for dinner. I love gyros – I’m cheap and I’m poor.”