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Lebanese Bay Ridge (plus Paneantico)


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Lebanese Bay Ridge (plus Paneantico)

Jim Leff | Apr 28, 2011 10:39 AM

I started out a big fan of Karam (the popular place on 4th ave just barely north of 86th). They went a bit downhill in the mid-90's, and Mazza Plaza, at 5th Ave and 80th, claimed to have their old chef and made better food, as well as a broader selection. So I became a loyal client of Mazza Plaza for many years.

Now Mazza Plaza has a new name - Al Safa, and new staff (some of the kindest, friendliest people ever). Same menu, same vibe, but alas the food's not half as good - though I hate to say it, given the niceness of the people (the chef needs to learn to put the same love and attention into his cooking that he brings to his customer interactions).

So I returned to Karam for the first time in a long, long, time.....and loved it. Their toom (garlic sauce, akin to aioli) is still great, their chicken shwarma is near-perfect, and they get all the little stuff right. Baba gounoush was remarkable, maybe better than the old days.

The real news is that while Bay Ridge's Lebanese community (mostly Christian, prosperous, and well-assimilated) is one of NYC's oldest ethnic communities, there seems to have been a recent wave of immigration, witnessed by the first new local crop of Lebanese restaurants since I started paying attention in the late 1980's. I spotted over a dozen brand spanking new places, but tried only one, a takeout called Samia's 7922 3rd ave 718-748-3337. Terrific baklava and vinegary closed spinach pies, and about the best zataar bread I've ever had. Surely other treasure, too. I need to go back and try more.

There's much exploring to be done in the nabe just in general.

One non-Lebanese note: I've never shared the board's high regard for Paneantico (9124 3rd Ave), the Italian bakery, and every time I return it disappoints me a little bit more (though as their baked stuff descends, their savory steam table offerings look better and better). I was shocked by how "meh" my most recent sfogliatelle was. Pasty and completely lacking in zing.

8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

9124 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

Al Safa
8002 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

7924 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

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