Mike Artinian remembers being the only family on his block in Beirut, Lebanon, to serve pasta dishes alongside kebabs.
"My mom lived in France and fell in love with Italian food there," he says, "so we ate it all the time."
Relocating to Paterson, N.J., when he was 10 years old cemented his relationship with semolina shapes in tomato sauce.
Although Lebanon and Italy share a sea and many of the same dishes (stuffed peppers, tomatoes and grape leaves, for example), Artinian hired two chefs for Mezza Lounge and Grill, explaining that "one alone cannot handle both authentic Lebanese food and also authentic Italian food."
Assmat Hamzy fixes the Lebanese menu. The Italian is prepared by a dude named Enzo.
"That's all I know about him," Artinian says. "He's a real Italiano, from Rome."
Mezza, 9640 W. Tropicana Ave., opened last November. The 5,000-square-foot eatery -- which also features a full bar, hookah lounge and gaming -- is awash in earth tones. Artinian says he's not through picking wall photos of the Mediterranean yet.
The restaurant's name means "appetizers" in Lebanese, and Artinian explains that Lebanese food frequently starts with small samples of the main menu.
"It can be 15 plates or more of appetizers," he says. "A sample from each dish."
Reservations are recommended, but not required.
Signature dish: Mezza Grand Kabob Platter, $59.95
Starters: Mezza Grand Feast (14 dishes), $54.95; smelt fish, $9.95; stuffed grape leaves, $6.95
Soups and salads: Tabouli salad, $6.95; mozzarella caprese, $6.95; Lebanese fattoush, $7.95
Entrees: Lamb kebab, $18.95; shrimp fra diablo, $15.95; quail, $18.95; beef shawerma, $12.95
Desserts: Baklava, $4.95; tartufo, $4.95; tiramisu, $5.95.