Ziyad Hermez doesn’t want you to call his specialty “Lebanese pizza.” He’d rather you call it what it is: manousheh, a Lebanese breakfast staple and street food. After doing a series of manousheh-themed pop-ups in SoHo with some friends in 2014, the concept took off and Hermez scouted a permanent location. The aptly-named eatery Manousheh (193 Bleecker St; 347-971-5778) opened two months ago.
Hermez is Lebanese, but grew up in Kuwait. Since the two countries are in such close proximity to one another and both Arab speaking countries, there is a crossover of cuisines and culture. Hermez grew up visiting Lebanon, and eating manousheh in school and in bakeries in both Kuwait and Lebanon — he considers his own establishment a bakery — but when he came to the U.S. 12 years ago, he found that no restaurants or bakeries made manousheh.
“It’s not represented in the U.S. at all, at least as far as I have been able to find it,” Hermez said. “It just got to me from the first day, but obviously I wasn’t going to jump into a business from day one. I came here for college. I went to university, did IT and kept searching and searching and saying someone’s gonna do it.
Every single Lebanese I talk to talks about how they’re going to do it. So after 10 years of waiting around, I just realized nobody was actually going to, so I kinda just wanted to make one for myself and see how that went. All of a sudden I found a passion in baking. When I finally made a manousheh that tasted great, I was like you know what, I could probably sell this.”
Manousheh’s menu is almost 100-percent vegetarian — the bakery only has one item that contains meat. “This was completely unintentional because I’m not in any way a vegetarian. I’m a huge meat eater. This was one of the few things I never realized growing up, that one of my favorite foods happens to be vegetarian. And it wasn’t until I opened the pop-up that people came inside and started asking me, is this vegetarian? And I’m like oh yes, it’s actually all vegetarian,” he laughs. “That’s when I realized that it’s all vegetarian.”
For now, Hermez is trying to keep his menu simple so patrons can know and understand the traditional ingredients of Lebanese fare. For the vegan-minded, zaatar and avocado-zaatar manousheh are two options.
One of the bakery’s most popular items is the zaatar and jibneh ($6). Hermez puts cheese (jibneh) onto an 11-inch piece of house-made flatbread. After baking, he slathers on zaatar, a blend of ground thyme, oregano, marjoram and spices. The bread is then topped with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and olives and rolled up for serving.
The bread is simultaneously tender and crunchy, followed by a hit of zaatar; pungent and piquant with salty-sour taste. The vegetables taste fresh and crisp and the cheese — a Palestinian type called akkawi — appears a third of the way into the manousheh. Once you take that first bite it oozes into the rest of the ingredients, adding its milky texture to the dish. Together, these traditional Lebanese textures and flavors pack an aromatic and tangy punch.