Years before there was a Trader Joe’s or Crop to Cup, there was Sahadi Importing Co. and Damascus Bread and Bakery.
For decades, Atlantic Avenue has been a Mecca for Middle Eastern fare. There aren’t as many specialty shops and restaurants as there used to be, with nearly a dozen estimated back in the 1940s and ’50s compared to the handful today. But people come from all over to the three-block stretch between Henry Street and Boerum Place for the imported ingredients and baklava.
The sultan of them all is Sahadi’s, which opened in 1948.
“There were three bakeries making Syrian bread — that’s before the word ‘pita’ came in — and three churches in the neighborhood that catered to the people from the Middle East,” owner Charlie Sahadi said of the days when his father opened the specialty shop. “It’s terrific to be here right now.”
Sahadi thanks the recession for good business as of late, as many have chosen to make dinner at home rather than eat out. And Sahadi’s has everything for a delicious, yet vaguely exotic, meal. There are olives and olive oils, bread, sheep’s milk cheese, coffees, seafood, dried fruit and nuts.
Oriental Pastry and Grocery is another big supplier, with nuts, olives, cheeses and hundreds of other cooking ingredients inside. Make sure to fill up on a bag of starch staples, like chickpeas and fava beans, and don’t miss the lady finger pastries, a flaky sweet treat filled with mixed nuts.
Need some lamb for an old fashioned spit-roast? Halal Meat Market and Grocery has got you covered, with meat handled according to traditional Muslim law. Since 1992, Halal Meat Market and Grocery has been offering huge slabs of protein, from chicken to beef, and tubs of spices to go with it. Owner Seed Ahmeb recommends seasoning the lamb with plenty of pepper, turmeric and coriander.
For those looking to dine out, there’s Yemen Café. The joint serves hearty Yemeni homestyle fare such as salta, a rustic assortment of root vegetables, tandoor-cooked lamb and bread with a creamy sauce. Prices are in the high teens during dinner, but all the lunch portions cost around $10 — a true bargain for the amount of food you’ll receive. For meat-centric and vegetarian Lebanese favorites, try Tripoli. The menu is pretty extensive, but one of the best deals is the Tripoli Maza from the appetizer menu. For less than $10 you get a platter of hummus, babaganouj, cheese, olives and falafel. It’s a meal in itself.
On the dessert end, Middle Eastern grandmas and those who wish they had a Middle Eastern grandma flock to the 80-year-old Damascus Bread and Bakery, which offers dozen of sweet and savory pies, handheld ones stuffed with nuts, meat or spinach and cheese. It even has a wood-burning oven to make the pita — or Syrian — bread in-house.
— with Meredith Deliso
Sahadi Importing Co. [187 Atlantic Ave. between Court and Clinton streets, (718) 624-4550]; Oriental Pastry and Grocery [170 Atlantic Ave. between Court and Clinton streets, (718) 875-7687]; Halal Meat Market and Grocery [232 Atlantic Ave. between Court Street and Boerum Place, (718) 625-2781]; Yemen Café [176 Atlantic Ave. between Court and Clinton streets, (718) 834-9533]; Tripoli [156 Atlantic Ave. between Clinton and Henry streets, (718) 596-5800]; Damascus Bread and Bakery [195 Atlantic Ave. between Clinton and Court streets, (718) 625-7070].