Atlantic Avenue, the main thoroughfare forming the border between Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, has long been home to a sizable collection of Middle Eastern shops and restaurants. In just one block between Clinton and Court Streets, the north side of the street features Sahadis, the unparalleled middle eastern grocery and Damascus Bakery, it’s smaller competitor—which we have long taken advantage of for our many Middle Eastern recipes. On the south side, flanked by the changed neighborhood’s Urban Outfitter’s and Barney’s, are a stretch of Middle Eastern restaurants: the best, and most popular of which is Yemen Cafe.
This family-run spot has been around now for close to 30 years, mostly catering to the area’s longstanding Middle Eastern clientele. The décor looks like an Atlantic City poker room, with cheap card tables and upholstered chairs and decorated with only a few photos of Yemen on the wall. It is not a surprise to see men in traditional Islamic religious garb or women wearing head scraves or even full Burqas, pulling down the eye slots to expose their mouths for small bites.
Needless to say, the welcoming staff turns out fantastic food. Yes, they offer traditional Middle Eastern dishes that we know and love, like a superb hummus topped with excellent extra virgin olive oil and paprika, smoky baba ghanoush, and charcoal grilled chicken kebabs dusted with Yemeni spices. But the kitchen really excels in more traditional Yemeni dishes—my favorite is the salta, a bubbling okra and lamb stew with whipped fenugreek on top called hilbeh and served with haneeth, a huge hunk of fall off the bone slow-roasted lamb. Another bubbling hot dish, foul, made of stewed fava beans, tomatoes, and sauteed onions provided the perfect topping when poured over the scrambled eggs dish, shak-shookah.
Portion sizes are gigantic and prices are very reasonable. You will find it hard not to over order.
Did I mention that huge pizza-sized flatbreads are served with every meal? They provide the ideal vessel for transporting hummus or salta to your mouth. If you finish one bread, a waiter is quick to replace it. Many diners forgo silverware altogether, and eat everything with the bread, like you would at an Ethiopian restaurant. Not a bad idea.
All meals are also served with marag, a deeply flavored lamb broth soup, which is well accented by a tomato-based hot sauce and sliced limes. A wan, mostly iceburg lettuce salad is also brought over, for some reason.
For dessert, head back across the street to Damascus and pick out an assortment of baklava. You will not be hungry again for a while.
176 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Recommended dishes: hummus ($8); baba ghanoush ($8); foul ($9); chicken kabab ($15.95) Salta ($19.95);
P.S. there is another location in Bay Ridge, the other Middle Eastern enclave in Brooklyn. Same food, even cheaper prices.