Cedars Meat House, Astoria
My latest craze has been all the sandwiches offered at Cedars Meat House, a Lebanese butcher, market, and lunch counter, on 30th Ave near Steinway. In the last few weeks, I've tried the chicken shawarma, the beef shawarma, the sausage sandwich, and eggplant sandwich, and I feel I've finally found my replacement for my beloved and long gone middle eastern deli, El Manara. The shawarmas are probably the least interesting choices for sandwiches. The chicken shawarma is made with breast meat, and can run dry to very dry, but it's saved with all the fixings that the counterman puts into the sandwich, like pickles, the beet-dyed pickled turnips, the onion salad with sumac powder, tahini, tomatoes, and especially the toum (the pasty garlic sauce) which is essential in the hot sandwiches. The beef shawarma can be a bit tough and chewy, but the spicing is good. This winner is the sausage sandwich. You can either get regular, which I assume to be soujuk sausage, or spicy, which is what I think is the one called makanek. Or it could be the other way around. Either way, these are some of the best things I've eaten this year. The spicy sausage has a wonderful smoky, spice-laden flavor that continues to haunt me.
Sausage sandwich: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3288/3154440338_db2b8d0434_b.jpg
The eggplant sandwich is a cold sandwich made with large chunks of previously fried eggplants in the cold case. Along with the usual sandwich fixings, there's some olive oil and added parsley. The eggplant was also a good, light alternative for the heavier proteins.
Eggplant sandwich: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3197/3153601669_835800129e_b.jpg
On my last visit, the counterman was preparing a tongue sandwich for someone else, and he gave me a piece of tongue to try. It falls into the cold sandwich category, as it's cooked, sliced and slightly pickled with vinegar and mixed with onions and some herbs and spices. It wasn't as sour as some pickled tongue I've had at the Russian places in Brighton Beach, but with some onion and herbs, I could have wrapped it in a couple tortillas and it would have been better than some of the lengua tacos at some of local Mexican joints. The tongue sandwich is next on my list.
I should note that these sandwiches cost $3.50 for a good portion. The vegetable sandwiches are $3.00. Two of these sandwiches makes a large and satisfying meal. One slight criticism is that the toum (garlic sauce) is very pungent of raw garlic, and can overpower any subtle flavors, so don't go overboard with it (i.e., don't ask for extra). If I get the sandwiches to go, I'll omit the sauce from the sandwich and ask for a small container of sauce so I can make my own adjustment.
Here's the Village Voice review from this summer.
Cedars Meat House
41-08 30th Ave, Queens, NY 11103
I never really took a good look at the dessert counter at Cedars Meat House, and then I was struck by a sheet pan of baked white custard covered with slices of almonds and crushed pistachios. This layer of custard covers a layer of pastry soaked in a citrus-infused sugar water (with maybe a hit of rosewater?). I had to inquire, "is this ashel soraya?" (There are no labels identifying any of the desserts.) This is the dessert I've had in LA in Little Armenia when I go back there, since I've been unsuccessful finding it anywhere else. The counterman nodded with affirmation. I didn't quite jump for joy, but I immediately bought a small slice to sample. I'm not sure how it compares to the one I get at Panos bakery in LA, but it was the flavor I've been longing for. There was something similar at Laziza, which was my consolation (or else it was the kanafa). But at long last, I've found one of my favorite desserts. I'm just loving this place even more. Though I'm still lukewarm with their shawarma, I've never been let down here especially with the kabab and other meat sandwiches.
I have walked past this place a number of times and after reading this review finally decided to give it a shot. We went there today for lunch and ordered a kofte sandwich and a falafel and fried cauliflower sandwich. Both were delicious. The pita was nice and thin and for such a simple (and inexpensive meal) it was amazingly well seasoned. I especially appreciated the garlic sauce and the pickle turnips. As we were leaving they brought out from the back just made warm grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground lamb. They were in tomato based sauce that had pieces of lamb in it as well. Fantastic! We will absolutely be back here and really look forward to trying more of what they have. Great find!