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Pop in, take out an ethnic treat

Three-layer meatloaf, meat or cheese pies, cabbage rolls, sushi. A taste of Lebanon, Poland, Hungary and Asia is right here at home.

Published August 11, 2006

After a long day's work, whether it's in an office, on a roof or in the back yard pulling weeds, there are times you just don't feel like cooking.

You're not in the mood for pizza, burgers or Chinese takeout. You want something different, something with an ethnic flair, perhaps something you've never tried. Or maybe you're from a foreign land and you simply long for some food from the old country.

It's too late to call ahead and have something ready for you. And you don't want to wait in line while it's prepared.

That's when ready-to-eat ethnic meals (not even a distant cousin to those military MRE survival things) can be a blessing.

The Times found three convenient stops (there are many more) where you can pop in without notice, pick up a fully cooked, prepared meal or entree for one or many, and be on your way.

CHEZ MARCO'S/MARANDO'S, Lebanese Mediterranean Cuisine, 4521 Grand Blvd., (about 100 feet north of Trouble Creek Road; directly across from Twistee Treat), New Port Richey. Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays.

Chez Marco's owners, George and Therese Rouhana, came to the United States from Beirut in 1998 and opened Chez Marco's three years ago. They offer a Mediterranean gourmet grocery store, a Boar's Head deli, an impressive array of salads, hot and cold subs, soups, hot pita subs, hot Italian meals, side orders, pastries and beverages, but it is their hand-made Lebanese dishes that set them apart.

This isn't a restaurant, though there are a couple of tiny tables where you can sit and eat. Chez Marco's forte is take-home dishes.

A standout is the stuffed baked kibbe ($6.25 a pound take-home, or with tabbouleh or hummus and pita bread, $7.59 lunch size, $10.99 dinner size), a three-layer meatloaf cake that is a Lebanese staple.

Finely ground beef is mixed with crushed wheat, onions and spices to make a "meat dough," which is shaped into two rectangles about an inch thick. A layer of high-quality, coarsely ground beef tenderloin is mixed with spices and pine nuts and spread on one layer. The other layer is pressed around the filling, the top scored, and the meat cake baked. Portions for two, four or more are sold out of the freezer, to be taken home and warmed up about 15 minutes to be the centerpiece of a Lebanese meal.

Completing the meal is the Lebanese salad tabbouleh, a mix of finely chopped parsley, tomato, onion, a little crushed wheat, extra virgin olive oil, spices and fresh lemon juice ($5.99 a pound).

There are also kibbe balls, which is kibbe shaped into small footballs and fried ($1.25 each); hummus (chick peas, garlic, sesame seed paste, fresh lemon juice) in three sizes ($2.99, $4.99 and $6.99); labneh, a cream cheese-like spread made from yogurt for a party treat ($4.49 to $9.59); baba ghannouj, a dip made from eggplant and seasonings ($4.59 to $9.59); tahine dip made from sesame seeds ($2.99 to $4.99); and fresh baked meat, spinach and spinach and cheese pies.

A terrific topping-off for this or any meal are the imported Ghraybeh cookies ($12.99), small, light sugar cookies with an almond flavor named for the Arabic word "swoon," which you will do once you pop one of these in your mouth. The key ingredient is fine, twice-ground semolina flour. The Rouhanas import them from Syria because obtaining goods from Lebanon is difficult now.

The Rouhanas also have a brisk catering business for all their ethnic dishes and specialties.

WARSAW DELI, Polish and Hungarian food, 11844 U.S. 19 (southeast corner of U.S. 19 and State Road 52), Bayonet Point. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Phone (727) 863-9199.

Owner Mira Sienkiewicz opened the Warsaw Deli in 2005 a few doors down from Raymond's Italian Grill.

Its rows of sausages, przetwory (food in jars and cans), pieczywa (breads) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, slodycze (sweets) and other Polish and Hungarian favorites fill a niche for locals who like something different and for central European transplants longing for original home foods.

The refrigerator near the front has Kefir, a cultured, enzyme-rich milk sometimes called the "body ecology" food, as well as the dishes prepared in the on-site kitchen for takeout.

The tiny deli/store is often filled with customers speaking Polish, a sign that the local Polish community has found and approves of the place.

Two Polish favorites frequently in the refrigerator case are golabki (cabbage rolls filled with densely packed meat) at $3.90 a pound, and salatka (a pickled herring salad with slivered carrots, yellow corn, chopped hard-boiled eggs, sweet onions and large chunks of pickled herring in a white creamy sauce) for $4.90 a pint.

For those who read Polish, the Warsaw Deli has a Web site:

PUBLIX, SOUTHGATE SHOPPING CENTER, 5127 U.S. 19, New Port Richey. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

(Fresh, in-house sushi bars are also in the Chelsea Place Publix on Seven Springs Boulevard, Mitchell Ranch Plaza in Trinity, the Shops at New Tampa and Hollybrook Plaza in Wesley Chapel, and in Collier Commons in Land O'Lakes.)

The sushi bar in the Southgate Publix is a business within a business - specifically, an independent franchise of 20-year-old Southern Tsunami, a trademark of AFC Corp. of Los Angeles.

Sushi chef James Durna owns the Southgate Publix franchise and works seven days a week making fresh sushi rolls, platters and special orders on site. He's there by 7 a.m. on weekends, when demand is heavy, and by 8 a.m. or so on weekdays, he said. He doesn't leave until midafternoon and often comes back for the evening rush.

"I make the sushi fresh every day," he said. If any is left over, he tosses it out and starts over.

"But I don't have to toss out much," he said. In the four months he has been at the Publix, he has learned what his customers like and makes it most.

So far, the favorites are California roll and cucumber roll, he said.

But the mixed Stardust Combo ($4.95, enough for two modest diners or one ravenous one) includes raw fish rolls, as well as the favorites and other selections. Other trays are all raw, while others contain smoked eel and other sushi choices.

Durna, a native of Burma, orders his ingredients from the Los Angeles company, which has more than 1,900 sushi bars in 130 supermarket chains in North America. The fish has been flash frozen, and he thaws the items out as they are needed.

The trays include fresh wasabi and crisp, sweet pickled ginger.

Durna's area also has seaweed salad (he calls it "Seabreeze Salad") with sesame seed oil, chili, sesame seeds and a sauce that includes jellyfish ($2.99). He also has calamari salad.

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 07:15:58]

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