Anita Cafe and Bar Adds Inspired Lebanese Fare to Locust Street

The Midtown cafe from Anita Abdul-Karim draws inspiration from her heritage and past career as a dietitian

Jul 24, 2023 at 10:20 am
click to enlarge The interior at Anita Cafe.
Braden McMakin
The interior at Anita Cafe.

When Anita Abdul-Karim moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis a month into the pandemic to take a leadership role as a registered dietitian, she couldn’t have imagined that a few years later she’d be stepping away from clinical work to open a cafe and bar. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. 

Abdul-Karim’s Anita Cafe & Bar (2700 Locust Street, held its grand opening on Friday. The midtown restaurant offers day and dinner fare, coffee and cocktails.

“After researching different areas of my field as far as a dietitian is concerned, and things not really working out, I realized I'd rather just serve coffee to people every day,” she says. “I’d rather make coffee for people and engage with the community.”

click to enlarge Dishes at Anita Cafe.
Braden McMakin
Hummus alongside Lebneh and tomatoes.

Though it wasn’t in the official plan, in some ways, the move wasn’t so unlikely. Abdul-Karim says her family is in the produce business and she’d idly thought about opening a restaurant at some point. She just hadn’t expected that it would happen later in life.

Anita Cafe took about a year and a half to develop. She says she signed a lease at the first location she found but then construction took a while to happen. And, over time, her vision for the establishment transformed, and funding it was an opportunity but also a challenge. 

“It's my first project this large, it's very public facing,” Abdul-Karim says. “It’s taken a lot of faith and trust to create something that doesn’t exist.”

One thing that wasn’t too difficult was putting together the menu. She leaned heavily on her heritage and included some Lebanese foods and combined that with her sensibility from her career as a dietitian. Over time, she refined those picks with feedback from pop ups.

click to enlarge The salmon is served with herbs and a citrus glaze.
Braden McMakin
The salmon is served with herbs and a citrus glaze.

The result is a menu full of the kinds of foods that Abdul-Karim enjoys — and one likely to appeal to St. Louisans as well. 

It’s split into day and dinner fare, with the former containing both Lebanese offerings such as zaatar-topped toast; ful medames, a fava and garbanzo bean dish; or fatteh, a garbanzo bean and eggplant dish. There are also items like rosehip oatmeal, served with rosehip-infused water, a variety of fresh fruits and honey; and avocado toast.

Some of those same items, like three salads, carry over to dinner. There they are joined by salmon and shrimp dishes, hummus, grilled cauliflower and more.

The Black Heart Emoji cocktail includes tequila, basil, rose and cardamom.
Braden McMakin
The Black Heart Emoji cocktail includes tequila, basil, rose and cardamom.

“The bottom line is for me to offer something that is fun and delicious,” Abdul-Karim says, noting that she’s used whole and not processed foods. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions like, you should say that this is healthy, you should put calories here or suggestions like that, and I've avoided that because I want this to truly just be like a fun, delicious experience.”

The cocktail menu, she says, came out of her love for the St. Louis bar scene, which is how she made friends and connections after moving here. The eight-drink menu includes offerings such as a Summer Fling, made with carrot juice, passionfruit, lime, spice and 4 Hands lager; the Krystal, with champagne, rose and lemon aperitifs, garnished with a rose sprig; and an Espresso Martini. 

Now that the cafe is finally opened, Abdul-Karim says that she is looking forward to getting more feedback and to share what she’s been working on for so long. 

“I’m feeling more excited than I have in the last couple of weeks,” she says. “Now I'm finally excited to see who comes in and how people respond.”

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