Dining Out: Aladdin Café in Hopewell Junction

Your wish is granted at this Middle Eastern restaurant in Southern Dutchess County

Blink and you’ll miss Aladdin Café as you drive down a rural stretch of Route 52 in Hopewell Junction. The café is set back from the road in a business plaza, and facing the opposite direction of the nearby exit to the Taconic State Parkway. For a lesser restaurant, this would be problematic. But since opening three years ago, Aladdin Café has quietly built a reputation as not only one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the Mid-Hudson Valley, but one of the most family-friendly as well.

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Curious to try it, my wife and I brought our 2-year-old son there for an early dinner. Inside, dozens of lanterns hung from the ceiling, sunlight streamed through the windows, and the air was thick with the smell of freshly baked pita. We enjoyed a glass of homemade mint lemonade and a small elegant pot of rosewater tea while perusing the menu, then sat back as our table became flooded with a wide variety of dishes.

Smooth and creamy hummus was first, accompanied by a warm stack of pita bread, sweet with char from the oven. A platter of falafel was a marvel; each individual piece was uniformly crunchy on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. When we asked our server if the crunchiness was the result of some special coating, she laughed. “That’s actually how it’s supposed to turn out if you do it the traditional way,” she replied. “And most people don’t do it that way.”

 Tabouleh was minty and refreshing; pleasant enough on a cool spring evening, but sure to be a lifesaver when the weather gets warmer. A bowl of lentil soup, savory and earthy, was a better fit for the crisper climate. Next was Foul Mudamas, a traditional dish of fava beans with an infinite variety of flavorings, spellings and regional variations — not to mention the individual whims of each particular cook. At Aladdin Café, the beans have a bright lemon and garlic tang upfront, followed by a faint, lingering whisper of heat.

The three of us happily passed the multitude of plates back and forth, but when the chicken shish kebab platter arrived we fell on it with equal measure. The chicken, marinated in olive oil and a secret blend of spices, was moist, tender, and gone in a flash. It was accompanied by a mound of basmati rice generously flecked with saffron, a pile of diced grilled vegetables, and a dill studded cup of the café’s tzatziki sauce.

This all left little room for dessert. Fortunately, the cafe’s dessert menu boasts an impressive array of homemade cookies, brownies, and other bite-sized temptations. We nibbled on a gluten-free almond cookie and a crunchy Barazza — a pistachio cookie coated in toasted sesame seeds. I finished up with a small cup of what the café dubs a Turkishino: Turkish coffee brewed strong and thick with cardamom but lightened with just a touch of milk.

Aladdin Café is a haven for those with dietary concerns or restrictions. The meat is all halal and hormone-free, and the menu features a wide variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Even kids are taken into account; although they keep chicken fingers and french fries on hand, picky young eaters will probably find something else to enjoy. Our son contentedly snacked on bits of falafel, hummus, chicken, rice and grilled veggies — although he did admit that his favorite part of the meal was the cookies.

As we chatted with the owner on the way out, she mentioned that often groups of parents will call ahead and ask them to stream cartoons via Netflix to one of the flatscreen TVs hanging in the back section of the dining room, so that the adults can enjoy a little adult time in the front while kids congregate and feast in the back. It’s consistent with the way this family-run establishment makes their guests feel like part of the family as well.

Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer who lives with his family in Beacon.

Perfect for date night? YES

Perfect for the kids? YES

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