Al Wadee Bakery: As American As Manakeesh
Behold the grand, evil Muslim takeover of America, laid out in plain sight one Sunday afternoon at Al Wadee Bakery in Anaheim's Little Arabia. A teenage boy mans the counter, playing with his smartphone. The patriarch sits at a table, drinking freshly brewed tea. A hijab-bedecked woman rests on a couch, intently watching a Middle Eastern soap opera. A laughing little girl reads her book.
No one is in the restaurant, a gorgeous space forged from a rundown strip mall. Huge murals of Lebanon's coast and valleys adorn the walls, along with Moorish arches and spotless tables. When somebody finally arrives to eat, the woman flashes a smile and offers a welcome; the teenager puts his smartphone aside but keeps on his iPod earphones and waits for an order.
Al Wadee's menu is fiendishly simple: appetizers, combo plates, sandwiches and a list of manakeesh, the topping-packed flatbread of the Levant. I order a sojouk sandwich and a side of labni, the strained yogurt thicker than sour cream. The father gets up from his table and goes into the kitchen. Bam! Bam! The sound of hands slamming dough onto a counter, then rolling it into pita bread echoes across Al Wadee, even above the arguing television couple. He puts the raw dough into the oven and waits.
The teenager emerges a couple of minutes later with a basket of pita so fresh that flour falls off it like snow flurries, so fresh they have tiny black spots where char marks are just beginning to emerge. The bowl of labni, minimally dressed and freshly made from goat's milk, is massive. "Sprinkle some salt on it," he cheerily advises, to cut its tartness. No need: The pool of olive oil in the center mitigates the labni's cutting, silky taste, a taste even sharper than the olives provided on the side. The pitas, fluffy and massive, are gone within minutes, dragged through the labni until the bowl is empty.
Next is the sandwich: sojouk pounded into a near-paste, wrapped in the same spectacularly fresh pita bread. I drag the sandwich—already spiked with a light garlic sauce and radioactive onions—through the labni. That isn't enough. A to-go order of one of their manakeesh, a balbakia, finishes the lunch: minced lamb as fine as pebbles. Other visits found fine falafels, tasty kabob, even more great manakeesh. This is our disturbing future, Newt Gingrich? Then I say bring it on, inshallah.
This column appeared in print as "As American As Manakeesh."
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