Ali’s Kabab Cafe
2512 Steinway St, Astoria, NY 11103
Ali Kabab Cafe on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens. This tiny storefront could be easily overlooked by a passer-by given the dozens of Middle Eastern restaurants and stores on that block. Don’t pass this one up.
Lately I’ve been taking more flights in and out of New York’s LaGuardia airport given that fact that I have been giving more and more of my airline business to Delta, who has a substantial presence at LGA in both the main and Marine Air Terminals. The side benefit of this is that LaGuardia is right next to the town of Astoria, which houses one of the largest Greek and Middle Eastern communities in the United States.
The main strip of Steinway Street, which used to be predominantly Greek 20 or 30 years ago is now more of an enclave of Lebanese, Palestinian and Egyptian stores and cafes. One such cafe that I had always wanted to visit but never really had the opportunity to eat at is Ali Kabab Cafe, a tiny, cramped but eclectic cafe that rightfully boasts some of the best Middle Eastern food in the New York metropolitan area.
I do have to warn you that if you eat at Ali’s, you are not just going there for the food, which in and of itself is creative and phenomenal and will not be like any Middle Eastern food you have ever eaten before.
You’re going there to be a guest of Ali Al-Sayed, who is a character that can only be described as an intellectual entertainer. If you strike up a conversation with Ali, you had better be prepared to listen, because this guy is a student of art, history and politics. If you have any interest at all in Egyptian and Middle Eastern culture, you’re in for even more of an experience. Just ask him questions about the stuff hung on his walls and you’re going to get an earful. He is the closest thing to a culinary ambassador that Egypt has in New York, or perhaps the United States.
Click on the “Read the rest of this entry link below” for more.
We got to Ali’s a little early for dinner service so we caught him with his two kitchen assistants eating an early supper. As you can see he likes to use a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables in his cuisine.
The Kabab Cafe menu. Click photo to enlarge. Kabab Cafe has a menu, and Ali will cook from it, but he will do his best to dissuade you from this and make you eat what he would like you to eat. I suggest that you go with whatever he tells you to eat on any particular day.
Ali was featured on an episode of No Reservations with Tony Bourdain. This video will give you a really good idea of what this place and Ali is all about.
Ali’s kitchen is open to the cafe and is one of the tightest cooking spaces for a restaurant that I have ever seen. But somehow this man seems to be able to perform miracles with food in here.
This is a lamb shank that he had just taken out of the oven, prepared Mediterranean style.
A mint iced tea, with green apple slices sweetened with honey.
It’s hard to get a full sense of the eclectic nature of the restaurant with just a few pictures but there are lots of Egyptian curios and bric-a-brac all over the walls, in an assemblage of what Ali describes as a “progression from the ancient world into the post-modern industrial age”, an art exhibition still in progress. Ali has been in business for over 20 years.
A snapper fish being prepared for another table. You could really smell the fresh basil and tomatoes and roasted vegetables wafting off of the plate.
Some of the ephemera and curios on Ali’s wall.
Before we got food, Ali placed plates that are pre-seasoned with Zatar (a spice mix with sumac) and chile powder/paprika on it.
This is a spicy dip made with several type of pickled chile peppers in it.
This is a roasted beet and vegetable salad, which is served hot with balsamic vinegar. I liked it hot but Rachel liked it as it cooled down.
This is an appetizer platter with quenelles of falafel, hummus, babaghanoush and fool, a type of bean mixture that is popular in Egypt.
Kofta Kabab, marinated grilled balls of spiced minced lamb over rice with roasted vegetables and vegetable jus.
This is a shredded phyllo dessert. In Greek or Turkish parlance this is usually referred to as Kataifi but in Egyptian it is called something else.
A layered phyllo dessert stuffed with almond paste.
A dessert sampler, with slices of different sweet phyllo and semolina desserts, some with almond paste, some shredded phylo with rose water, some with fresh ricotta cheese in it, drizzled with a pungent and astringent pomegranate syrup. This goes great with strong Arabic coffee which Ali will make for you on request.