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Lebanese Bay Ridge (plus Paneantico)

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I started out a big fan of Karam (the popular place on 4th ave just barely north of 86th). They went a bit downhill in the mid-90's, and Mazza Plaza, at 5th Ave and 80th, claimed to have their old chef and made better food, as well as a broader selection. So I became a loyal client of Mazza Plaza for many years.

Now Mazza Plaza has a new name - Al Safa, and new staff (some of the kindest, friendliest people ever). Same menu, same vibe, but alas the food's not half as good - though I hate to say it, given the niceness of the people (the chef needs to learn to put the same love and attention into his cooking that he brings to his customer interactions).

So I returned to Karam for the first time in a long, long, time.....and loved it. Their toom (garlic sauce, akin to aioli) is still great, their chicken shwarma is near-perfect, and they get all the little stuff right. Baba gounoush was remarkable, maybe better than the old days.

The real news is that while Bay Ridge's Lebanese community (mostly Christian, prosperous, and well-assimilated) is one of NYC's oldest ethnic communities, there seems to have been a recent wave of immigration, witnessed by the first new local crop of Lebanese restaurants since I started paying attention in the late 1980's. I spotted over a dozen brand spanking new places, but tried only one, a takeout called Samia's 7922 3rd ave 718-748-3337. Terrific baklava and vinegary closed spinach pies, and about the best zataar bread I've ever had. Surely other treasure, too. I need to go back and try more.

There's much exploring to be done in the nabe just in general.

One non-Lebanese note: I've never shared the board's high regard for Paneantico (9124 3rd Ave), the Italian bakery, and every time I return it disappoints me a little bit more (though as their baked stuff descends, their savory steam table offerings look better and better). I was shocked by how "meh" my most recent sfogliatelle was. Pasty and completely lacking in zing.

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Karam
8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

Paneantico
9124 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

Al Safa
8002 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

Samia's
7924 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

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  1. Oh, cool!! More info on the old Mazza Plaza people! God bless the Internet! See the bottom comment here: http://leftinbayridge.blogspot.com/20...

    "Joe Ayoub, the recent and last owner of Mazza Plaza, sold the entire buisiness and will be doing something else in the future. "



    1 Reply
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Thanks for the report.

      I'm a big fan of Karam as well. I tried Al Safa last summer in a head-to-head comparison and their chicken shawarma just didn't stack up. Even the toum wasn't as pungent as Karam's! However, the father and son combo who served were extremely friendly and even gave me extra pita bread.

      -----
      Karam
      8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

      Al Safa
      8002 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

    2. I am a moderate regular at Karam- was lukewarm on it for a long time- but the last two chickens that I have brought home have been over the top great. One little new twist- ta woman behind the counter...

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      Karam
      8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

      2 Replies
      1. re: carfreeinla

        Carfree, good to have confirmation that Karam's entered a golden period.

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Speaking of Lebanese, there is a great new Lebanese pastry shop in Bay Ridge, on 5th ave, between 72nd and 73rd, called Cedars -- baklava, etc. Good ice cream there too.

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          Cedars
          7204 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

      2. ah great news.

        1 Reply
        1. re: howler

          Why? You want us to mail you something?

        2. glad Karam is back in form and that you are cruising the area again.. Paneantico (bay ridge) has always been a pretty meh pastry shop.
          The 14th ave store is better largely because they are close to the bakery but their standard italian pastries are not much better than average - and they dont make the paneantico any more except (they claim) by special order and even it had declined before they stopped producing it regularly.

          Id like to know if anybody in Brooklyn makes affirmatively good sfogliatelle that is warm and fresh.. It mostly is cold and stale, it seems to me.

          -----
          Karam
          8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

          Paneantico
          9124 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

          5 Replies
          1. re: jen kalb

            This thread is especially disheartening with reagrd to Royal Crown breads taking a dive or no longer produced...and to top it off, they had, this side of Andre's Hungarian Pastry, the finest cheese danish, topped off with toasted sliced almonds. It has changed.

            Karam's babaghanoush is to be worshipped, hall-of-fame calibre.

            -----
            Karam
            8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

            1. re: Mike R.

              Ddont mean to create a misleading impression - Royal Crowns Breads are still very good,and worth seeking out, but they dont make the very large Paneantico which was their specialty any more. I feel like the breads are a little saltier than they used to be, but maybe thats me, not the breads.

              1. re: jen kalb

                It's not you. There is more salt.

                1. re: Tay

                  agreed. we've been getting royal crown bread pretty much every week lately, and it is saltier. still love their chocolate bread, tho.

                  1. re: missmasala

                    Just the opposite with our Mother's Day large round (one with the whole in the middle)...something, perhaps salt, distinctly missing.

                    But their custardy cup-type, apple-tart-looking pastry was a huge hit, even better with brown-edged burnishing.

          2. Went to Karam a month ago for the first time. The small closed spinach pies were fantastic, as were the chicken pies. (They're open-topped, like a shumai.) I froze them and had them a week later, and they were still excellent. Also got a small container of I-don't-know-what-it's-properly-called-but-on-the-menu-it-says-"apricot pudding." It's a liquidy puree of dried apricots with golden raisins and slivered almonds. Too sweet to eat straight, if that's what's intended. I served it to friends for dessert with small scoops of drained Greek yogurt, and they thought I was a genius.

            Jim--Go back to Paneantico on a Sunday and GET A SUGAR DOUGHNUT. I know it's not an Italian pastry. Just trust me.

            -----
            Karam
            8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

            Paneantico
            9124 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

            5 Replies
            1. re: Amy Mintzer

              I will! I do!

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Bought an extra chicken tonight because they are THAT GOOD. Baba ganoush too. Smoky, not greasy. Garlic sauce. turnips. Perfect.

                1. re: carfreeinla

                  The pastries at Paneantico aren't great, yes. But the food from the steam tables and the giant sandwiches are consistently excellent. And its sister establishment a block south, Piazza Mercato, has great prepared food, butcher, pasta, cheese, cold cuts, olive oil, etc. And terrific lard bread.

                  -----
                  Piazza Mercato
                  9204 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

                  Paneantico
                  9124 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

                  1. re: Wet Towel

                    Thanks for corroborating my instincts on the steam table, which I've never actually tried.

                    I'd love to get small tastes of lots of those steam table items. Do you know whether they'll mix-and-match?

                  2. re: carfreeinla

                    I usually go to Karam's for the chicken shawarma sandwich but today I made a detour and went for the roast chicken to go. Wowee! Juicy, tasty skin and a decent sized bird to boot! Can't go back to supermarket rotisserie chicken after this...Thanks again carfreeinla!

                    -----
                    Karam
                    8519 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

              2. After many, many years just went back. Chicken shwarma sandwich and baba ganoush still on point!

                1. I stumbled into Karam a few years ago because of its proximity to the 86th St R train (by which I really mean Century 21), and it was love at first bite - and I should add that being from Detroit, I'm pretty fussy about my Lebanese and Palestinian food. I wasn't aware of its up and down history.

                  No one has mentioned my own personal favorite menu item - their sujok sausage sandwich. If you haven't tried it, you should. It sets the standard: well-spiced, nice fat sausages, fairly busting out of its bread wrapper. I hate to admit it, but it makes the sujok I used to get in Dearborn seem wan and meager by comparison.

                  Great lemonade as well, and the pistachio-stuffed ma'amoul are delicious (not sure if they're made in house or, more likely, supplied by a bakery). Mmmm . . . I am having some serious cravings.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: linda313

                    Will check out those items. I also want to try the roast chicken that others have raved about. Stuffed zucchini special also looked good...