Winsted >> The word “no” is rarely heard in Noujaim’s Bistro, located at 436 Main Street in Winsted. As owner George Noujaim says, “I don’t want to hear that word in my restaurant. If a customer wants a dish that he or she doesn’t see on that day’s menu I will still make it for him or her.”
It’s all about great food and customer service for Noujaim, who serves as chef, greeter, concierge, just about any task that can be performed in a restaurant. “I welcome my customers, prepare the meals they like, the way they like, chat with them during dinner and say goodbye when they leave. It’s about customizing every meal and for each customer.”
Noujaim’s Bistro opened its doors this year and has already attracted a loyal following, many of them former customers of the 53-year-old Torrington resident’s take out, dining and catering businesses in Torrington, the first on lower Winsted Road and the second, which he ran for five years prior to relocating to his present digs, in the Burrville section of Torrington.
“The space we are in now was formerly Kelly’s Kitchen and we came in and pretty much gutted the place, although the brick walls, which give it a nice, warm feel, had already been exposed.” The restaurant, which can seat around 50, specializes in authentic Mediterranean food with a decided Lebanese flair. Noujaim also bases his thriving catering business out of his new location. He caters a variety of events, from small parties to large weddings and everything in between.
After emigrating from war-torn Lebanon in the 1980s, Noujaim began in the food business in Stockbridge, Mass., preparing various salads and take out dishes that were sold in the family market located along Main Street, captured so elegantly in Norman Rockwell’s illustrations and paintings of the small town. “We eventually opened a deli in South Egremont, Mass.,” says Noujaim, “and were also selling our food in four or five stores in the Berkshires, which we still do.”
He explains how the catering side of his business evolved. “I got a call from a customer who had been following me for about 10 years and he asked that I prepare him a turkey dinner with all the sides and trimmings for Thanksgiving. That was in 1986 and preparing turkey dinners that people can take home became a tradition of ours. That sort of was the start of our catering and we have continued to grow that side of the business ever since.”
In fact, Noujaim’s tasty and unique food, and ability to handle large events with aplomb became so well known that he was asked to cater the wedding of the late President Franklin Roosevelt’s great-grandson in 2007. “There were hundreds of people and the event was held on a family farm in Massachusetts. When we do weddings, we do things from A to Z. The father of the bride thanked me afterwards, saying that I took so much pressure off the family by taking care of everything.”
Noujaim is licensed to cater in the Tri-State area of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. “We also make food baskets for people to take with them on picnics or wherever,” he says. “I’m the only one who touches the food and I make everything fresh daily. We draw customers from all over Litchfield County, the Berkshires, West Hartford, Avon and New Haven County. We have a warm, homey atmosphere and quality, affordable food. We source much of our produce locally and have our own herb garden in back of the building. In the winter, obviously, we have to find things where we can.”
One of the more popular offerings at Noujaim’s is a dinner he prepares for 20 or more guests called “Lebanese Feast” at a separate, large table in the upstairs dining area. “We serve everything from appetizers to dessert and it’s an authentic Lebanese dinner. We had a large group in here recently, over 20 people, and they stayed for five hours. They couldn’t believe when the bill came to only $500.” Noujaim’s allows customers to bring their own alcoholic beverages and charges a cork fee of $3 per person.
Noujaim decided to move the base of his operations to Torrington in 2006, opening a deli on Winsted Road that featured Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes. It became quite popular due to the ethnicity of its food. When the owner of the property wanted to sell, Noujaim moved north towards Winsted and opened a second deli in a small store in Burrville.
“The Burrville deli didn’t have the visibility the first shop had on Winsted Road, but we did okay. I had a customer who began begging me to move closer to her in Winsted, and when this space became available we decided to make the jump. We have great visibility now being on Route 44 and Main Street and that has been a big plus. We have been well received and I always like to be a part of the community and be involved in organizations and committees.”
A look at the dinner “starters” menu at Noujaim’s Bistro shows a number of interesting selections such as: stuffed meat grape leaves or vegetarian stuffed grape leaves; spanakopita, a flaky filo dough stuffed with spinach and ricotta; the classic kibbieh, ground sirloin with bulgur wheat stuffed with caramelized onions; and garlic soup (which this author gleefully sampled), made with fresh, crushed garlic, fine sherry, herbs and cream.
Main dinner players include: chicken kabob, marinated chicken skewered with fresh vegetables; a falafel plate featuring crushed chickpeas coriander and cumin served with tahini, vegetables and pita bread; braised lamb shanks served over ragout of vegetables and potatoes; and Noujaim’s signature garlic shrimp, large gulf shrimp with fresh garlic sauce.
There’s also a quite extensive lunch menu featuring many Lebanese dishes, as well as traditional pasta dishes, salads, wraps, the aforementioned garlic soup and a marvelous French onion soup.
Noujaim’s Bistro is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, although the kitchen will remain open “as long as we have customers,” says the owner. The Bistro also can be opened for private events, and individuals can always arrange to have their events catered by visiting www.noujaims.com, or calling 860-379-0559.