Gazala's, a Druze Restaurant on the Upper West Side
Chak choka (pronounced "shack shooka") is one of several Druze breakfasts at Gazala's.
Gazala's (380 Columbus Avenue, 212-873-8880) is an offshoot of a small cafe in Hell's Kitchen called Gazala's Place, named after chef Halabi Gazala. With Gazala's Place, she opened the city's first Druze restaurant, cooking the food of a religious minority that lives in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.
The new place is lofty and spacious.
Druze cooking enjoys many similarities with the cuisines of North African and Middle Eastern countries, but one distinction is the unusual pita breads -- gossamer-thin, made with whole-wheat flour, and cooked on a dome-shaped metal pan.
Gazala's (the Upper West Side one) has lately started serving a Druze breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays (call for exact times). It features a choice of six main dishes, or you can have a combination of bread dips and salads such as baba ghanoush, hummus done several ways, and tabouleh.
One of the things a friend and I tried was the North African standard chak choka. For $10.50, you receive a big bubbling cauldron of it, in which are submerged two poached eggs. You also get an Israeli salad, french fries, a pot of mint tea, and a dessert consisting of a few squares of baklava. Not a bad deal. The chak choka itself is a paprika-laced and garlicky stew that might be mistaken for a tomatoey version of Texas chile. The fries are just so-so, but, when dipped in the cast-iron pot, they take off.
Also available as a breakfast special is a bourek -- a round, flaky seeded pastry filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. In the special, a tea-boiled egg rides atop as the tray is carried ceremoniously in, with salads on the side. Druze omelets and a hummus special involving four different types round out the special breakfast menu. You also have the option of putting a salad platter together with your choice of hot and cold meze from the regular menu, which also runs to meat kebabs and fish entrées. For caffeine addicts, there's some agreeable Turkish coffee, not as gritty as most.
Side dishes of baba ghanoush, hummus, and tabouleh come with an unlimited supply of tissue-thin Druze pitas.
Baklava for dessert.
The signboard outside advertising breakfast.
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