>> Al-Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant | Eat the World NYC

25 June 2019

Al-Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant


There seems to be quite a lot of turnover in Bay Ridge over the last two or three years. One of the closings that hit hardest was Alexandrina Seafood Restaurant, source of some the freshest and tastiest fish in town. Over the winter of 2017-2018, it abruptly shut down and was replaced by the very unappealing chain Gyro Mania. With all the better options around, this establishment did not last long and from those ashes has emerged the wonderful Al-Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant.

By far not the first place to use this name, it is an immediate suggestion of the proprietors' homes in Jerusalem. The namesake is the third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located in the old town. It is crucial to Muslim life in the city and all of Palestine though, the destination of Muhammed and his night journey (al-Isra) spoken of in the Quran.

To see this name on the brand new awning at the same address of Alexandrina makes it hurt a little less, as did walking inside to the smells, activities, and hospitality. If you come in seeking only takeout orders, as many do, please do not miss the opportunity to walk towards the back and check out the baking go on.

Baskets full of different types of breads, pre-packaged containers of cookies, and all kinds of pastries sold by weight are all made here by the skilled bakers, as are stacks of breads available for purchase. A gigantic oven sits at the back, and if you are too shy to peek around the corner just ask to use the restroom and you will have to walk by. The oven fills the restaurant with intense heat, and the man rolling and tossing dough for flatbread sheets called laffa (or taboon) looks just like a pizzaiolo.

The cooking surface of the oven rotates and allows multiple items on at once. Not wanting to stand out like tourists, a Palestinian woman customer finally confirmed the special qualities of the oven and process when she started a Facebook live as laffa was being thrown in the air and onto the oven. It is worth sweating a little bit at the tables near the back of the restaurant just to be around the bakery for enough time to see everything that goes on here.

For each event that took place, two more questions came to mind, but the people that worked here were all very receptive to these and made sure to explain everything, happy to have a chance for their foods to shine.

A selection of cookies for $3.24, sold by weight.

One of these questions turned into an enjoyable addition to the meal, a full loaf of ka'ak (below), which the man here referred to as "Jerusalem bread" and recommended wholeheartedly. Other customers were coming in and grabbing multiple loaves, bagged separately and ready for purchase as we were eating.

"This bread is straight from Jerusalem!" was stated at least five times during our stay and it could be felt how significant this was to him. Even in Palestine the bread is unique to the city, travelers from other parts buy many loaves to bring as gifts to their friends and family. The crust is soft and covered in sesame seeds, the bread inside even softer and so light. Despite being almost a meter long before cutting, it is not heavy and feels like it might float away.

No matter what, the ka'ak is a great addition to the meal and should be an automatic order to replace the simple pita when ordering some of their dips.

But let's back up to the beginning now that you know what lies ahead at the end. To get to the rear you must first traverse the main preparation station and a healthy spit of chicken shawarma, which most customers seem to be ordering. You can have the sandwich on simple pita, upgrade to laffa, or go the route of what they call a hero, a hearty loaf of bread also covered with sesame seeds (see photo at end of article).

Add fries ($2 when added to sandwich) to eat it in true Arabic style. The chicken shawarma on laffa ($6.99, below) can be customized up front, also a tradition worth watching so you can replicate the other customers. A table of choices for sandwich additions can satisfy the tastes of any customer, with fresh vegetables and pickles ready to be added.

Served to the specifications of the house, the sandwich is full of onions and a mustardy sauce, quite different than the standard garlic sauce and pickles found on most, but thoroughly enjoyable. If you threw in some citrus and spice, the sauce could almost replicate those found on West African meat dishes, but this remains comfortable on shawarma despite its surprise.

As mentioned above, the ka'ak deserves to be dipped, and the perfect plate for this is their musabaha ($6.99, below), a hummus upgrade that uses whole chickpeas and is topped with chopped garlic and sumac. Full of lemon juice, the dish is sharp to the tongue, while the spices and oils round out the flavors as you start chewing. Wonderful.

When the falafel ($2.99 for 6) arrived, the simple tahini seemed disposable and dips kept returning to the musabaha.

As with any respectable falafel maker, these vegetarian balls of goodness are formed and fried to order. Turn around at your seat and you might catch them quickly being created on the special tool before getting plopped in the hot oil. The end result are perfect, light and airy, and reminiscent of another Palestinian chef in the neighborhood that is now long gone.

Despite your oncoming food coma, make sure to grab a selection of some of their cookies and pastries before leaving. When that feeling of needing something sweet comes to you later in the day, these delicious selections will bring it all full circle. Each cookie has a different quality, but all are handsome and made with care and craft.

Al-Aqsa is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood, and worth coming to even for those living far away. Keep your groups at four as space is a bit limited, but you will want some friends with you so you can sample as much as possible.

[UPDATE 05 OCTOBER 2019: A quick return for something different]: Having gravitated straight back to the tried and true favorites on a couple return visits, it took another recent trip to try the mix platter ($12.99, above), a combination of three meats, salad, and rice.

As you already know the chicken shawarma is excellent, but the chicken kebab and kofta both were just as tasty. Served with various pickles and over a bed of onions, the plate is quite a good deal.

Loaves for "heros" and hard-boiled eggs.

Al-Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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