My friend John and I shared a food adventure in Queens this week, going to the famed Kabab Café in the tiny Egyptian enclave on Steinway Street (it's at number 25-12).
Things are pretty relaxed at the Kabab cafe. Upon arriving at the restaurant at 1:00 PM, the purported opening time, the owner, Ali Rahman, was cleaning his oven and informed us that he would not open until that task was completed, estimated to be 20-25 minutes. So we went next door to the Nile Deli to see what an Egyptian market was like. Apart from the many hookas on display, the Nile contains a wealth of Middle Eastern products, chickpeas and favas in every possible form, tahinis, etc. A fascinating side trip.
By the end of our little detour, the Café was ready to open, so we went in. After a Paris-length interval, Ali approached us and we began to chat about what we might eat. Ali, a warm and humble man, sizes up the customers during this preliminary interview and makes appropriate suggestions. We ended up with a plate of assorted mezze with fava bean falafel, a vegetable salad, and small plates of lamb parts: we had brains (looked and tasted like a very tender schnitzel) and sweetbreads (perfectly browned outside and tender in the middle). We passed on the liver and the testicles. All was well-prepared and we enjoyed the mild but pungent spice profile. (A spicy homemade seven-pepper sauce is available to kick up the flavors to those – me included – who so desire.) Abundant mint tea and pita accompanied and enhanced the meal.
Leaving, we passed by the nearby Lebanese pastry shop, Laziza, where John bought a mixed batch of miniature pastries in the baklava mode: various configurations of nuts and honey in filo. All very tasty and a perfect counterpoint to the Egyptian seasoning still occupying our mouths.
Queens is the ultimate melting pot today. Nearly every nationality is represented there, and enjoying their foods is the best way to partake of other people’s cultures. Well worth the trip.