MoMo's Kebab offers tasty take on Moroccan food
MoMo’s Kebab, a restaurant that specializes in Moroccan food, opened last February at 2199 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. Mohamed Abdessamad, the restaurant’s chef and owner, was born in Morocco, immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, and moved to the Cleveland area in 2007.
Abdessamad, 55, said he has always had a passion for cooking, which he learned from his mother. When he was 21, he moved from Morocco to France, then Germany and finally Russia. He spent seven years there, primarily in St. Petersburg, where he attended college and earned two master’s degrees, one in linguistics and one in education. While in Russia, Abdessamad was asked to cook a meal for the Moroccan ambassador. “After he ate, he came up to me and shook my hand and told me how good the food was,” Abdessamad said. “That was the first time I had cooked for someone, and his response really had an impact on me.”
When he left Russia for the U.S., Abdessamad initially lived in Washington, D.C. He attended school to learn English, and worked in a Cajun restaurant and then an Italian restaurant. Then, he and two partners decided to open their own restaurant. “We served things like burgers and pasta,” Abdessamad said. ”It was not focused on one cuisine.” The restaurant was not a success, and closed in less than a year.
Abdessamad then decided to leave D.C., and initially considered moving to California or Texas. But, he had attended a wedding party in Cleveland and had liked the city, so he decided to move here. Initially, he worked at Nordstrom. “I was just trying to make some money, and I was also looking around Cleveland to see what areas I liked,” Abdessamad said. In 2008, he bought a house in South Euclid. After he moved in, he threw a party and cooked for his friends. It was a big success, so he started throwing parties once a month, cooking food at all of them.
Meanwhile, he was searching for a place where he could open a restaurant. Last year, when he saw the space formerly occupied by A Phiner Bistro, which closed in November 2013, Abdessamad decided it would be a great spot for MoMo’s Kebab.
He completely redesigned the interior of the restaurant. He painted the walls, re-did the entrances to the kitchen and restrooms, and added couches and other furniture in the front of the restaurant. “I wanted to give it a Moroccan touch,” he said.
His menu features soups, salads, sandwiches, and dinner platters that are served with homemade wheat bread, rice, vegetables and salad. The platters feature marinated grilled-beef kebabs, marinated ground-beef kebabs and grilled-chicken kebabs.
Abdessamad’s favorite menu item is the loin lamb chops, but he also loves the kefta—ground beef marinated with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and spices. He noted that his food differs from traditional Moroccan food in the herbs and spices that he adds to the entrees.
Abdessamad is the restaurant’s chef, while his wife, Khadija Ait Ammar, does all of the baking. Her desserts feature a variety of French cookies and other French-Moroccan specialties.
“We don’t use any canned food or any frozen food, and we do not cook anything in microwaves, either,” Abdessamad said. ”I go shopping almost every morning. I go to farmers markets and other places to get fresh vegetables, meat and other things.”
So far, he said, business has been good, adding, “We’re very busy Thursday evening through Sunday.” In May, Cuyahoga Community College’s Ethnic Foods and Culture program spotlighted MoMo’s Kebab, bringing some 43 people to the restaurant. “We were packed, and it was really exciting,” Abdessamad said.
2199 Lee Road
Tuesday through Sunday,
noon to 11 p.m.
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.