Al-Sham Restaurant

Instagram Post 7/3/2019

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One of the newer establishments in Brooklyn’s Middle Eastern neighborhood (which I still think should be called “Little Levant”) is Al-Sham Restaurant at 7701 5th Ave in Bay Ridge. On its compact menu, you’ll find the usual suspects like hummus, baba ganoush, and falafel, but their emphasis seems to be the chicken shawarma, available on a platter with fries or as a “sandwich” (their word) since it’s really shaved into a piece of laffa (flatbread), rolled up with pickles and toum, and grilled. Toum is a sauce made primarily of olive oil and garlic that’s whipped into a fluffy, snow white blizzard of a condiment; you’ll receive a hefty dollop of it on the side if you order fries. Think of it as the Levantine answer to Mediterranean aioli.


Strategically positioned by the window, the chicken shawarma is gargantuan compared to others along the strip. Foodies fond of photographing favorite finds frequently position a quarter or a spoon beside the food for the purpose of demonstrating relative size. Here, we’ve situated a human to serve the same purpose. Kidding. But seriously, that’s one big honkin’ shawarma. As he rotated the shawarma, shaving it down, he repeatedly slathered it with a substance I couldn’t quite make out, but I’m guessing it was toum, glorious toum.

There was something undefinably fresh about this chicken shawarma (the only kind they offer, BTW); I don’t know if it was because it was a new batch or because of the continual application of toum, but here’s hoping they maintain that same quality as they whittle it down. And yes, it’s a stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour; to learn more, check out my Ethnojunkets page. Hope to see you!
 
 

Antepli Baklava

Instagram Post 6/27/2019

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A favorite stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour is Antepli Baklava at 7216 5th Ave, Brooklyn. They offer an assortment of savory Turkish dishes as well as desserts including baklava, künefe, and dondurma, the dense, chewy ice cream crafted from cream, salep, mastic, and sugar; you may have seen my past post about booza, a similar treat that hails from Syria. But lately, I just can’t get past the chocolate baklava.

Now, despite my sweet tooth, I’ve never been a fan of standard issue, regulation, honey drenched baklava, but this chocolate version is a cut above. Sweet but not cloying, chocolate forward, the upper flaky layers provide the crunch while the compressed substratum is the repository for restrained syrupy goodness, the two interspaced by a thin barrier of finely chopped nuts. Droolworthy.

When I was told it’s imported from Turkey, then baked on the premises, I remembered a post (and a sample too 😋) from my Instagram friend @gustasian not long ago about the same item with the same appearance and the same taste and the same story that she found in Sunnyside. I’m willing to bet they came from the same distributor too.
 
 

Sellou

Instagram Post 6/21/2019

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Since food tour season is in full flower and there are some new businesses in the neighborhood, I decided to revamp my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge ethnojunket. Did you know that Bay Ridge and Beirut are cognates? Just kidding.

One of the treats along the route is sellou (سلّو, aka sfouf or zmita), a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted flour and ground almonds, sesame seeds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and anise; as you’d expect, recipes vary from family to family. At Nablus Sweets, 68-12 5th Ave, Brooklyn, I spotted a huge brown mountain of it and purchased a small knoll, broken here into two little hillocks. It’s soft in texture, somewhere along the cookie<–>brownie continuum but drier, crumbly but crunchy from nuts – just break off a chunk and enjoy, perhaps with a cup of tea. If your knowledge of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sweets is informed primarily by honey drenched baklava and kanafeh, give this one a try (available particularly around Ramadan); I highly recommend it.
 
 

Alsalam Restaurant

Instagram Post 1/8/2019

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Did you know that Fifth Avenue is in Manhattan and 5th Avenue is in Brooklyn? The Bronx and Queens have their own as well, but Brooklyn’s is in our sights today – more specifically, Alsalam Restaurant & Meat Market at 7206 5th Ave in the Middle Eastern Bay Ridge neighborhood. Their awning tells it all: gyros, BBQ chicken, shish kebab, falafel, meat pies, and zaatar “pizza” along with grocery items like cheese, olives, nuts and halal goodies in general – just what you’d hope for and expect ’round these parts.

Here’s their lamb shawarma, a tasty treat enjoyed a few months ago when the weather was more like that of Lebanon – juicy lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, graced with a creamy yogurt sauce (and yeah, I added my own hot sauce! 😉).
 
 

Kanafeh

Instagram Post 12/13/2018

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Having recently done a post about a hearty meal we enjoyed in Brooklyn’s Middle Eastern neighborhood, Bay Ridge, I thought it appropriate to follow up with a coda about dessert. We hit two bakeries that day (there are many more), partly in a quest to see who made the better kanafeh.

Kanafeh, also spelled knafeh, kunafa, (there are many more), but always reliably كُنافة, is hypersweet and made with sugar syrup-drenched crisp shredded dough that conceals rich delights like clotted cream or cheese and is often topped with chopped nuts. You’ll recognize it easily: Picture a large pizza positioned on its round aluminum pan; now increase its size by, oh, half again as much; now instead of pizza toppings, picture finely shredded noodle-like dough so orange in hue that it would put a fresh carrot to shame; now forget that I said anything about pizza, it’ll only be confusing, but you’ve got the picture.

At Cedar’s Pastry and Ice Cream Shop, 7204 5th Ave, we tried two different kinds of kanafeh (there are many more), [1] mastic/ashta, the hands down winner by my standards, and [2] cheese.

[3] At Nablus Sweets, 6812 5th Ave, where the pans are square – picture Sicilian pizza, now forget I said that – we chose one with cheese and a different topping (there are many more) but I wish we had plumped for one of the other varieties as well.

Perhaps one day I’ll bring a few friends and we’ll do a proper smackdown of all the varieties because, as you’ve no doubt discerned…there are many more.
 
 

Ruzana

Instagram Post 12/11/2018

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The secret’s in the sauce.

Ruzana is a Jordanian family owned Middle Eastern restaurant located at 486 85th St in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge so it comes as no surprise that Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, is ensconced on the menu. Their family recipe is simple in appearance but time consuming in preparation. Chunks of lamb on the bone are cooked slowly in an herby sauce of jameed (sheep’s or goat’s milk yogurt, dried, fermented, and restored to a fluid state) until so ethereally tender that they yield submissively to the touch (it’s eaten with the fingers). Garnished with toasted almonds and parsley and presented over rice, the cooking liquid is served on the side and, since that’s the essence of this delicious dish, begs to be applied liberally. I’ve heard that Ruzana does/has done a more elaborate, traditional presentation involving shrak/markook flatbread beneath and atop but ours arrived unadorned.

 
 

Karam – Spinach Pie

Instagram Post 11/30/2018

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I’m usually not a fan of Middle Eastern spinach pies. Yes, I know, heresy. But they’re generally seasoned carelessly if at all, the dough is too tough particularly where the edges are pinched together, and when the spinach excretes its bitter juice, they turn into something that resembles wet cardboard with a filling my mother would have insisted was “good for me”. So when this plate appeared, I snapped a pic thinking I probably wouldn’t venture beyond that – but I would have missed out on a great treat. Karam, the Lebanese restaurant at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn succeeded in changing my opinion of this ubiquitous snack. The filling was herbaceous and delectable and the dough was tender and supple, little pillows of delight that won my heart. Get these.

The second photo shows za’atar pita crisps, there for the asking.
 
 

Karam – Falafel

Instagram Post 11/29/2018

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Falafel are customarily made from chickpeas or fava beans, ground, compressed and deep fried. The Lebanese restaurant Karam crafts theirs from a combination of both which, in the company of a proper balance of onion, garlic, parsley, cumin and other spices, is probably what makes their rendition so tasty. Served with tahini and pickled turnips, it’s one of the best versions of the crunchy treat in this Middle Eastern neighborhood. Located at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Karam has earned its phenomenal reputation rightfully; head over there and see for yourself – they’re a cut above the rest. (See photo 2 for the inside scoop!)
 
 

Karam – Chicken Shawarma

Instagram Post 11/6/2018

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The Arabic word shawarma has its roots in the Turkish word çevirme, turning, which describes the pirouetting conically-stacked slabs of marinated chicken as they inch past the searing glow of the vertical rotisserie. Karam, at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, offers two variations on the popular street food: beef & lamb and chicken, and prepares one of the very best in this Middle Eastern neighborhood (which probably should have earned the moniker Little Levant, but didn’t).

Shown here is chicken shawarma; packed with deftly-seasoned succulent meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and dressed with a yogurt based sauce, it was one of the finest delicacies we enjoyed that day.
 
 

Karam – Za’atar and Tomato Pie

Instagram Post 11/3/2018

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There are numerous Middle Eastern restaurants in Bay Ridge but there is only one Karam. Many of these restaurants make flatbread pies that go by many names like manoush, manoushe, manousheh, mankousheh, manakish, manaqish, manaeesh or manakeesh, not to mention specialized versions like lahmacun or lahmajoun, and each of these many names goes by many spellings.

Karam calls them simply “pies”. And that’s all you need to remember because they are far and away the best in the neighborhood in my opinion. The bread is fresh and supple, the toppings bright and flavorful, the aroma intense and intoxicating.

Here’s our tomato and za’atar pie, one of their many varieties. Za’atar (which itself goes by many spellings and regional recipes) is a blend of thyme and sesame seeds (the mandatory pair) and other herbs and spices like sumac, hyssop, oregano, and savory. Za’atar can be overpowering if applied with a heavy hand, but the sweet tomatoes mitigated any attempt to commandeer our palates. Try this pie.

That’s not all we enjoyed that day, of course; I’ll post more from Karam, the wonderful Lebanese restaurant, soon. In the meantime, I recommend that you experience their delicious food for yourself at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.