By Ben Adler
Matt’s interesting post on Doner Kebab, reminds me of a couple things. The first is that Cafe Creole was an awesome spot back in the day: live jazz, Caribbean food and alcohol for minors. Try finding that in D.C.
The second is that Middle Eastern food is awesome and that it is far better and more prevalent in New York than in D.C. I assume Matt is thinking Mamoun’s among his favorite late night Middle Eastern sandwich spots, since that is on MacDougal Street. Mamoun’s is indeed fabulous: quick, crisp falafel sandwiches with good Tahini sauce for $3 at all hours of the night. Compare that to D.C.’s famous Amsterdam falafel. The sandwiches are more expensive, take too long too make, and there are fewer choices.
Middle Eastern food in New York is exquisite. And this is one cuisine that legitimately is better in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the City. Atlantic Avenue’s longstanding Arab-American community is home to a series of delicious affordable eateries. Sahadi’s imports all tasty things from the Middle East, such as olives that are plump, juicy and subtle and creamy fresh made hummus. Damascus bakery makes quality meat pies and spinach pies.
For much of my later childhood there was a cheap BYOB restaurant across the street from my house called Olive Vine Pitza. In addition to personal pizzas made on crispy pita bread based crust, which featured such fine ingredients as carefully lamb and subtly seasoned vegetables, they made the best fresh pita for their sandwiches and abundant platters. The tangy babaganouj was above reproach.
Near my office when I worked at The Nation, by Union Square in Manhattan, was the most amazing cheap Middle Eastern sandwich shop in a converted newsstand. They sold vegetarian delights such as lightly fried cauliflower or sauteed eggplant sandwiches.
In D.C. Middle Eastern seems to only exist in Adams Morgan. While Amsterdam is OK, and I like the toppings bar innovation, it is as much about the french fries as it as about the real food. The only truly respectable Middle Eastern establishment in the area is Astor. That place has some good hummus, some appropriately flaky spinach pies and the right overall geshtalt.
Elsewhere in the District you have fancy, Middle Eastern inspired cuisine at Zaytinya, and mediocre Lebanese at Lebanese Taverna. Overall, my Middle East fetish goes generally unsatisfied.