People have been trying to get Abraham Abdalla to contact Guy Fieri, host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and ask to be featured on his TV show.
Last year, Abraham and his wife, Lorena, converted part of their convenience store into a restaurant and bar that serves Peruvian food. Customers can fill up their gas tanks, then stop in for a chicken kebab and a cold one.
“We have live music on Friday nights,” said Abraham, 45, of Maryville. “Rock ‘n’ roll, blues, jazz, all kinds.”
The couple changed the name of the business from Raqqa Food Mart to Fairview Lounge Bar & Grill. They moved out shelving to make room for tables and chairs and built an oak bar along one end.
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“It’s a full bar,” Abraham said. “We have over 200 beers — domestic, imported and craft. Plus we have 16 beers on tap that change seasonally.”
Abraham is a Syrian immigrant with a strong accent and upbeat personality. If he’s not serving drinks, he’s walking around asking people if they like the food or if they’re having a good time.
On a recent Friday, Abraham chatted with regulars Bob and Carol Jones and their 12-year-old godson Xavier Noble.
“On Friday nights, we get the Cajun-style catfish and the Peruvian Salad, which is excellent,” said Bob, 70, of Fairview Heights, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who takes advantage of the restaurant’s 10-percent military discount.
“We’ve had the fried rice, which is out of this world,” Bob added. “And they give you so much, you’ve got to have it again the next day.”
The salad is made of chopped tomatoes, onions, avocados, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil with chunks of queso fresco, a fresh white cheese, served on a lettuce leaf.
Fairview Lounge manager Crystal Williams’ favorite dish is Lomo Saltado. It’s sliced steak flame-cooked with pisco (Peruvian brandy) and wine, blended with onions, tomatoes and spices and served over french fries with a side of white rice.
“The meat is so tender,” said Crystal, 34, of Collinsville. “It’s cooked just right. It’s cooked to order. It’s hot and fresh when it comes out, sizzling on the plate.”
Customer Pat Downey likes the Anticuchos, which is beef heart marinated in aji panca (red pepper) and other Peruvian spices, then skewered and grilled.
Not everyone is willing to try beef heart, but those who do often order it again. It’s served with corn on the cob, seasoned grilled potatoes and a housemade spicy sauce.
“The food here is delicious,” said Pat, 54, of Mascoutah. “It’s not typical bar food with deep-fried everything. It’s real food made with recipes.”
Lorena developed the Fairview Lounge menu. She grew up in Peru, immigrating to the United States in 2003. She added her own twist to recipes from her mother, grandmothers and aunts.
“I love to cook,” said Lorena, 36, who has four children between her and Abraham. “I always cook for my family, and when we have big parties, everybody wants to try my food. They love it.”
The Peruvian menu is available from 3 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The restaurant serves other fish and chicken dishes, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Abraham, born Abdalla Ibraham, came to the United States in 1998 as a student from a college in Dublin, Ireland, to serve an internship with the Hyatt Regency hotel in St. Louis Union Station. He later worked at another restaurant and managed the convenience store before buying it in 2002.
Business was good until the recent recession, when sales decreased dramatically.
“But what am I going to do, complain about the government?” asked Abraham, who became a U.S. citizen in 2004. “I live in the best country in the world.”
Two years ago, the couple traveled to Peru to visit Lorena’s family. They saw combination restaurants and gas stations that seemed to be doing well and decided to try the concept in Fairview Heights.
In addition to food and beer, Fairview Lounge sells a wide range of cocktails. The Pisco Sour is made with Pisco Porton (Peruvian brandy) fresh lime juice, egg white and syrup.
“Abraham is genuine,” said Pat, sitting at the bar sipping a New Belgium Slow Ride Session IPA. “This business is his passion.”
At a glance
What: Fairview Lounge Bar & Grill
Where: 10616 Lincoln Trail in Fairview Heights
Kitchen hours: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays for the Peruvian menu (10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. for other fish and chicken dishes)
Bar and gas: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays
Seating: About 75
Information: Call 618-394-8904 or visit the Facebook page
On the menu
Lomo Saltado — Sliced steak flame-cooked with pisco (Peruvian brandy) and wine, blended with onions, tomatoes and spices and served over french fries with a side of white rice, $9.99
Ceviche — Raw tilapia cured in lime juice and Peruvian spices and served with corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, red onions and cancha (toasted corn), $6.99
Anticuchos — Beef heart marinated in aji panca (red pepper) and other Peruvian spices then skewered, grilled and served with corn, seasoned grilled potatoes and a housemade spicy sauce, $7.99
Aji de Gallina — Shredded chicken, onions, garlic and Peruvian yellow peppers in a spicy sauce, served over potatoes, , $9.99