Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant: Fast Food – Cooked Slow
Sam Rashed is at the helm of Zaytoon, Holt’s newest restaurant (Arabic for “Olive”). The Mediterranean cuisine focuses on the Middle East and Greece with an American twist. Holt won the Zaytoon lottery through a Facebook survey and the family owned and operated restaurant opened in October 2016.
Zaytoon is a healthy alternative to fast food as their tagline says, “Fast Food – Cooked Slow.” The emphasis is scratch cooking from fresh Michigan ingredients, when possible, never frozen. For example, making hummus is a slow three-day process. The first day the chickpeas soak, the second day they’re boiled, and finally, after cooling overnight, the third day they’re made into hummus, a silky smooth dip served with pita. A glistening black olive with olive oil is the garnish. At the Lansing location, the round puffy light rolls accompany the hummus. For a little kick, there‘s also a spicy version.
Sam was born and raised in Detroit of Lebanese decent. During his early years, Sam says, “I had the good fortune to travel every summer to Syria to work in my grandfather’s large restaurant.” There began his passion for the restaurant business. After working in a variety of restaurants, from steak houses to sushi bars, he returned to his roots with Zaytoon. Even today, Sam is a hands-on owner working wherever needed, from chef to dishwasher.
In a casual dining atmosphere with counter service, order and the attentive servers bring the food to your table then check-in regularly. There is a combination of about 20 booths and tables at each location, although Sam is planning to expand the Lansing location.
The moist garlic-flavored chicken shawarma is Zaytoon’s most popular dish. Sam’s the only one who knows the marinade recipe. “I should probably write it down, just in case,” Sam thinks aloud. Even his wife doesn’t know the secret recipe. Zaytoon serves shawarma as a meat plate with sides or as a wrap. The chicken shawarma plate comes with hummus, rice, and a choice of soup or salad. Garlic sauce is a favorite condiment.
The falafel are ground chickpeas flavored with parsley, cilantro, garlic, Spanish onions, and jalapenos formed into balls and fried crispy dark golden brown. The green lentil soup made with rice is the perfect foil to the Michigan’s winter cold. For dessert, Sam’s wife Stephanie makes house-made traditional walnut baklava and an updated version with Ghirardelli chocolate. For something light, the raw juice bar at the Lansing location features smoothies made from combinations of fruits and vegetables.
The pita wraps are $7.25 including the choice of a house salad, hummus, or fries. The Toon for Two includes a skewer of beef, chicken, two shish kata, chicken shawarma, two kibbe, two falafel and two lamb grape leaves served over rice, served with hummus and a house salad. Although it’s called “the Toon for Two”, the generous portion easily serves four ($29.99).
Catering is available for office lunches, family dinners, special occasions, and weddings. While the restaurant menus are Mediterranean, Sam caters from any cuisine.
Many meat and vegetarian dishes including chicken shawarma, kabobs, eggplant, and cauliflower (to name a few) are gluten-free. At Zaytoon, Sam has even switched the bulger (wheat) in the tabbouleh for quinoa to make it gluten-free. While the house rice contains wheat, the vermicelli is eliminated on the gluten-free menu.
One customer, Bev Lyon has 40 years’ experience eating Lebanese food and she drives 20 minutes to enjoy Zaytoon. She “loves the friendly service.” While she only discovered Zaytoon in the last month, she already has seven punches on her loyalty card.
Zaytoon – Holt
1979 N. Aurelius Road
Holt, Michigan 48842
Hours: Monday – Saturday – 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Zaytoon – Lansing
940 Elmwood Road
Lansing, Michigan 48917
Hours: Monday –– 11:00 am – 8:00 pm, Friday and Saturday –– 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Zaytoon Mediterranean Food Terms
Although the cashiers are happy to explain various menu items, before you go, you may want to brush up on Mediterranean food terms.
- Baba Ghanouj is an appetizer of cooked mashed eggplant, tahini, olive oil, and spices mixed to a dip with a smoky flavor.
- The falafel are ground chickpeas flavored with parsley, cilantro, garlic, Spanish onions, and jalapenos formed into balls and fried crispy dark golden brown.
- Fattouch is a toasted pita bread salad with mixed greens and tomatoes or radishes chopped in larger chunks.
- Hashwi is a rice dish made from lamb or beef, almonds and spices like cinnamon and allspice. It is an entrée, side dish or stuffed into various vegetables.
- Kafta is ground beef and lamb, with parsley, onion, and jalapeno formed into a sausage shaped patties and cooked.
- Kibbe is bulgur wheat, mint and onions combined with ground lamb into patties and cooked.
- Mujadara is a vegetarian main dish of green lentils flavored with cumin and onions.
- Shawarma is garlic-flavored meat layered on a spit and grilled. It’s then shaved off the rotating spit and served while the remainder continues to rotate.
- Tabbouleh is a vegetarian salad made of quinoa and finely chopped tomatoes, parsley, mint, onions seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.