Lebanese-food fans on a budget have a new reason to get excited. Tarik Fallous, owner of Au Za’atar, recently opened Souk & Sandwich (117 Avenue of the Americas; 212-625-3982) in the West Village, offering an authentic taste of Middle Eastern cuisine at a price that’s easy on the wallet.
There is some cross-over between the new menu and that of Fallous’s original eatery, but the owner emphasizes that Souk & Sandwich has its own emphasis — the small spot offers a selection of traditional sandwiches for lunch. “This is totally separate from Au Za’atar,” says Fallous. “The feel is different, the food is different, some of the spices and herbs are the same, but we’re making different things in this place. Between the size of the place and the menu, the items are not exactly the same. We’re using all fresh ingredients. We try for consistency all the time, but we’re not trying to duplicate.”
There are about fifteen sandwiches to choose from, each of which rings in at less than $10. About a half-dozen are vegetarian, with options like grilled marinated eggplant ($8), cauliflower (made from the recipe used at Au Za’atar), and a french fry sandwich ($6) with coleslaw, garlic toum (basically Fallous’s rendition of a garlic aioli), ketchup, and pickles. Each item is marinated and prepared separately, then rolled together into a crepe-like wrap — there are no substitutions. “Eggplant and cauliflower, everyone loves,” says Fallous. “It’s more flavorful, even for people not so crazy about eggplant.”
A couple chicken options are available, including the fragrant djaj ($8), chicken breast marinated in cinnamon and other bold spices, combined with pickles, fries, and garlic toum. Fallous also offers a lamb kebab scented with cumin and coriander finished with parsley, onion, and tahini ($9). And he does a kafta kebab ($8.50), char-grilled beef with onions, parsley, herbs, grilled tomatoes, and tahini.
Rarer, more interesting meats are also on the menu. Try the sojuk ($8), an aromatic homemade sausage spiced with cumin, sumac, red pepper, and garlic. It’s rolled up with garlic toum, pickles, and tomato. The asbi ($9.25) combines sautéed spiced veal liver, onion, and pickles. And the tongue sandwich ($9.25) takes the organ then mixes it with pickles and garlic toum.
Some sides and mezze round out the menu ($4 to $8). The hummus, spicy hummus, and baba ghanoush are all topped with high-quality Mediterranean olive oil. There’s a new dip made from spicy sweet red peppers, pomegranate molasses, and diced nuts. Phoenician fries (the same ones used in the fries sandwich) are hand-cut, double-fried, then dusted with sumac and parsley; housemade aioli is served on the side. Tabbouli, heavy on the parsley and herbs, is prepped as it’s ordered.
Souk features just a couple stools and a compact ledge near the register; you’d be better off grabbing a spot on one of the benches out front or heading to one of the nearby parks.
When Fallous decided to get into the restaurant industry, he was actually hoping to jump in with a concept similar to Souk & Sandwich; however, he stumbled upon the space for a sit-down restaurant first. He opened Au Za’atar just over a year ago, and wasn’t planning on opening another concept. But then he ran into the modest address in the West Village, perfect for a takeaway operation. With some media companies, numerous office buildings, and an up-and-coming neighborhood nearby, Fallous saw an opportunity. “A lot of customers who come to Au Za’atar live or work in the West Village,” he says. “It’s one of the neighborhoods customers asked us to come to. It’s one of the neighborhoods that asked for this kind of cuisine. There was sort of a need for something different than a generic deli — something more flavorful.”
In the not-too-distant future, Fallous plans to roll out dinner with some hearty stews (think lamb and okra, vegetarian string bean, and mint yogurt stew with lamb) and a couple of good burgers. Those items will be available until around 11 p.m., then he’ll revert to the sandwich selection, probably until 5 a.m. Delivery is also slated to debut in the coming weeks.