If you think all Middle Eastern cuisine is the same, then a trip to the 4-week-old Manakeesh Cafe Bakery will dispel that myth. Actually, there are regional differences and influences.

When physician Wissam Chatila set about opening a bakery and cafe at 45th and Walnut, in University City, it evolved into a taste of his native Beirut - a blend of European cuisine and spices from the Middle East.

General Manager Abd Ghazzawi grew up around the corner from the rehabbed bank building that houses Manakeesh. He's a perfect host for the cafe: his father is Lebanese and his mother American.

Chef Wissam Zayat, also a native of Beirut, brings that beguiling blend of Middle Eastern spices applied with a light touch so that nothing dominates the flavor profile. The result is a pleasant memory on the tongue.

The cafe's atmosphere and the menu lend themselves to sharing. One of our favorite dishes was Fool ($5.75), a puree of fava beans simply seasoned with lemon, garlic and lots of olive oil, served with freshly made pita. Traditionally this is breakfast food, but for our American palates it works well any time of day. It's served only on weekends at Manakeesh.

A better-known dip, of course, is Hummus ($3.25 with bread). While I won't pretend that this rivals my local favorite - Zahav's Turkish butter version - Manakeesh Cafe also makes hummus light on the tahini so that the chickpea flavor is dominant. It is very good, and I like Zayat's light hand with the salt, so often overused in this dish.

A word about the pita here: It's right out of the brick gas oven, and it doesn't get much fresher or lighter. Think bread pillows. The same dough is transformed into a crisp flatbread by poking holes in it with a spiked roller before baking to let the air escape.

The cafe is named after the Lebanese flatbread sandwich baked in an open flame oven, so there is, and rightly so, an emphasis on a variety of manakeesh.

Our favorite was the Tawook ($5.75). It comes spicy or not, but there is never a "not" for me. The spicy version was perfection - tender chicken accented by a garlic sauce and authentic Lebanese pickle. When this is baked with the flatbread and folded over, it gives new meaning to the fast-food expression "special sauce and pickle on a bun."

If you are adventurous, try the Sujuk ($4.75), a pungent sausage mix. For a more cautious introduction, go for the Lahm Bajeen ($4.25) made with ground beef. All the meats are halal, which not only guarantees that certain religious rules have been followed but also means that the meat is considered to be of higher quality.

The only disappointment of all the dishes we tried was the Shwarma ($6.75). Cut with the grain, the meat was chewy and lacked any of the great crusty, caramelized bits.

Ghazzawi noted that this has been a challenging dish for them, and they have trouble with consistency. With so much good shwarma in the city (Hamifgash comes to mind), why bother? But Ghazzawi said that they'll rise to the challenge.

There are also some side dishes. In my mind, Fattoush ($2.50) could be considered the Lebanese Caesar salad, as it has a signature dressing and unique croutons. It also complements main dishes or grilled meats.

Here it was served as a small side of crisp romaine lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. I'd prefer to add some radishes and bell pepper, but the dressing was a perfect blend of olive oil and the astringent spice sumak. Croutons made from fried pita pieces added to the texture of the chopped vegetables.

One of the best ways to try Manakeesh is to order a dozen of what they call mini keesh ($13). These look like miniature pizzas and come with a variety of toppings. Favorites included a zesty zahtar seasoning, pungent cheese and a lemony spinach pie.

Add a pot of tea (small, $4.75) served in a silver pot and glass, or a Turkish coffee ($2.25) scented with cardamom, and these little bites are a perfect way to while away an afternoon.

And, oh, the sweets! The Baklavah ($1.50 or 3 for $3.65) is stellar. This is what phyllo was meant to be - gossamer layers of pastry with a hint of butter and sweet that is studded with nuts. No cloying syrup here.

You'll also find beguiling stuffed semolina pastries that are formed in a wood press. And children will be attracted to the colorful web of fried dough known as mshaddak.

Beruit is a cosmopolitan city with many cultural influences, so Manakeesh also offers a full case of French pastries. But you can get good French pastries elsewhere, so I say stick with the authentic Lebanese - or work your way through both cases.

Wi-fi is available in one-hour increments here, but I advocate turning off the Internet and reviving the art of people-watching in the welcoming cafe atmosphere. Outdoor dining is planned for warmer weather.

Service can be a little slow, especially on busier weekends, but the cafe is only a month old, so the few fluffs can be overlooked.