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Fruzion: These Fruit Cocktails From Lebanon Taste Like California on a Sunny Day

An assortment of juices at Fruzion in Glendale.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]here’s a large, glass mug filled nearly to the top with avocado juice, its consistency thicker than what one would normally consider a juice, but also silkier than a smoothie and less dense than a shake. Big chunks of banana hide inside the creamy liquid, becoming a hearty surprise with every few spoonfuls of the cocktail.

Topping the concoction is a Lebanese cream called ashta, a generous drizzle of honey, almonds, and a sprinkle of pistachios. It’s a Lebanese-style drink called an Avocado Carnival and it tastes just like California on this sunny Sunday afternoon at Fruzion, a fruit cocktail cafe like the kind you’d find in Lebanon or Montreal. This one is in Glendale – they also have a location in Chatsworth – but their story, inspiration, and recipes come from all around the world.

When my husband and I split an Avocado Carnival on a recent afternoon in Glendale, we spent the rest of the night talking about it while somehow resisting the urge to go back and get another one. We agreed, though: for two Angelenos who love avocados and dessert, it was the tastes of California.

Sweet treats at Fruzion in Glendale. All photos by Liz Ohanesian.
Sweet treats at Fruzion in Glendale.

Mary Simone Yacoubian, who owns Fruzion with her husband Mike, says that she has heard this before from customers. "Someone said that they're shocked that it didn't originate from California because it's fruit," she tells me inside inside the Glendale fruit cocktail and crepe shop on a recent morning.

The kind of fruit cocktails that Fruzion serves – big enough for two to split, but also enough for a one-person meal – originated in Lebanon. While Fruzion itself was born in Chatsworth almost three years ago (Glendale is their second location), its origin story includes a stop in Montreal.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]oth Mary and Mike Yacoubian are of Lebanese-Armenian heritage. Mary grew up in Encino. Mike is from Montreal. When they went on their first date, more than 20 years ago, Mike made Mary a fruit cocktail similar to the Lebanese-style ones that had become popular in his hometown. Even back then, he wanted to bring the treat to Los Angeles. Time passed. They got married, had two sons, and, for a short time, resided in Montreal. "We ended up living at cocktail shops like this in Montreal," says Mary. "I fell in love with it."

The family returned to Los Angeles ready to bring the concept with them. That's when they met Mahmoud Hajjar, better known as Moe, who became Fruzion's chef.

RELATED: Restaurant Guide: Glendale

Mahmoud "Moe" Hajjar is Fruzion's chef, seen here holding up a glass of avocado juice in the Glendale shop.
Mahmoud "Moe" Hajjar is Fruzion's chef, seen here holding up a glass of avocado juice in the Glendale shop.

I met chef Moe at Fruzion's Glendale outpost the following week, where he told me that he's been making fruit cocktails for about 20 years. In Lebanon, it was his family's business. Then they moved to Canada and opened shop there. In Montreal, he learned how to make crepes and waffles as well.

A few years ago, Moe had been talking about leaving Canada. He wanted to take his menu to either Australia or California. That's when a friend introduced him to the Yacoubians. He came out to visit for four days and his answer was, "Let's do it."

Moe says climate played a big role in his move. "This business needs weather like California weather," he says.

The Pompeii waffle at Fruzion.
The Pompeii waffle at Fruzion.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]heir menu is extensive. They have a selection of gelatos and sorbets in flavors that include ashta, avocado, and mixed berry. They offer crepes, including Middle Eastern-influenced dishes like Byblos (with zaatar and lebni) and 1001 Nights (with ashta, pistachio and almonds). Also available: waffles and Middle Eastern-style desserts like a pudding called sahleb. The fruit cocktail, though, is the basis of Fruzion and is served in many different varieties.

The fruit cocktail has morphed with its moves. In Lebanon, Moe says, chefs might add designs with fruit on top of the ashta. Some fruits – like papaya – are North American additions. Much of the menu stems from Moe's work in Montreal, but there are differences. "In Montreal, there aren't much people who are vegan/vegetarian," he says. "Here, there's a lot."

In fact, Mary has been following a vegan diet since she was 12. She says that her favorite cocktail is the Santa Barbara, a medley of banana, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry, mango, and papaya in orange juice that she eats with sorbet instead of ashta. Fruzion's menu is customizable to fit both tastes and dietary needs, but Moe also says that he's working on a menu that's specifically vegan.

Juliette crepes, the most popular crepe on Fruzion's menu.
Juliette crepes, the most popular crepe on Fruzion's menu.

Fruzion incorporates the multi-cultural tastes of Los Angeles as well. They serve a Mango Tajín cocktail. Moe says that he hadn't tried the seasoning before moving to California.

At their Chatsworth location, the gelato selection includes ube. Their crepe menu features the Yerevan, an Armenian-inspired dish that incorporates a cured meat called basturma and lebni, a spreadable cheese. And it was influenced by Mike Yacoubian's taste for the pairing. Moe adds that, while it's not shown on their wall menu, customers can order an egg, cheese, and basturma crepe as well. He suggests that people get it with hot sauce.

"It's really good," he says, "especially if you like hot sauce."

Their most popular fruit cocktail is the Exotic 7, where a layer of strawberry/banana juice sits between the avocado juice and ashta. It's filled with chunks of mango, strawberry, and avocado. Their most popular crepe is the Juliette, filled with Nutella, strawberries, and bananas. Moe made two of those for customers during our visit.

Fruzion's brand of fruit cocktails have traveled halfway around the globe, but they've found good homes in the San Fernando Valley and Glendale, fitting right in with the cross-cultural mix of flavors that has become Southern California food. Mary Yacoubian agrees. She says, "I think it is very California."

RELATED: 'Food Desert' No More: A Raw Vegan Eatery Thrives in Huntington Park

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