Who knew the new “Avengers” movie would create a shawarma buzz?
After one of the movie’s ferocious battle scenes, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) craves one of those Middle Eastern wraps, a street-vendor staple. “Have you ever tried shawarma?’ he asks Captain America. “There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.”
When the credits roll, the superheroes can be seen sitting around a table, chowing down on meaty sandwiches. And faster than you can say shazam, sales of shawarma (usually pronounced shuh-WAHR-mah, but with many spelling and vaguely different pronunciations) are reportedly skyrocketing across the country.
There are quite a few “joints” in Kansas City that offer a tasty version of shawarma, but one of the newest is Bread for All Bakery Tandoori Naan Café.
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The bakery portion of the business opened in January, and every morning Foad Salih, a master baker from northern Iraq, makes naan in a tandoor oven. The fluffy flatbread is often associated with Indian restaurants but also appears throughout the Middle East, owner Stan Yoder says.
The Seriwa naan is named for Salih’s 11-year-old daughter. The 10- to 12-inch rounds quickly found a wholesale market. Already Whole Foods has made inquiries, but manager Joel Yoder says they want to get the restaurant portion of the bakery up and running before they commit to retail.
The café opened in April. If you can, the best time to arrive, Joel Yoder says, is right when it opens, at 11 a.m. That’s when the flatbread is still warm. In addition to serving as an accompaniment for hummus, baba ghanouj and the roasted red pepper hummus dip (all $4.99), the café’s pillowy naan is the main vehicle for a variety of halal meats: chunks of chicken kebab, Kurdish “kifta” kebabs, slices of gyro and shawarma.
The beef shawarma is made of wafer-thin slices of meat similar to that on a Philly cheesesteak; the meat has been grilled with tiny slivers of onion and tiny bits of tomato that have been finely diced and marinated in a slightly spicy curry sauce. A chicken version is made from thigh meat.
Each of the $6.99 sandwiches can be morphed into “plates” (ranging from $9.99 to $14.99) that include your choice of rice and grilled vegetables or hummus with naan, plus a choice of lentil soup or a Kurdish lettuce salad.
Ali’s Hummus, named for Salih’s 9-year-old son, is spread across an oval paper plate and sprinkled with ground sumac, a brick red berry that has a pleasantly astringent flavor. The meat tops the hummus and a splotch of hot sauce on the side adds additional color and depth of flavor.
The lentil soup is a slurry with chicken broth seasoned with saffron, curry, cumin and lemon. The Kurdish salad is a mixture of romaine, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage, feta cheese and olives with a slightly piquant green dressing.
Another popular item available as a sandwich or as an appetizer ($5.99) is the vegetarian falafel. Five fava bean and chick pea patties were combined with enough chopped parsley to turn the mixture a light green. These falafel were some of the best I’ve ever had outside of New York.
The falafel becomes a sandwich when wrapped in naan and garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, onion and a yogurt-based Kurdish cucumber sauce and tahina, a yogurt-based sauce enriched with sesame seed paste. You can also create a combo meal by adding a drink plus either a small salad, a cup of lentil soup, two dolmas or French fries for an extra $2.50.
The setup at Bread for All is a simple, American-style sandwich shop. We ordered and paid at the cash register, then sat at some sturdy, unadorned tables and waited while Salih warmed the food on the grills and prepped the plate. Small Kurdish rugs hang on the wall.
An order of Nilofar’s green Kurdish tea (named for Salih’s 6-year-old daughter) arrived at the table in a variation on the traditional Turkish coffeemaker, a single-serve stainless steel pot with a long handle. The tea came brewed and ready to pour into gold-filigree porcelain demitasse cups for sipping. The same cups are used for Nilofar’s Kurdish coffee.
“Is it strong coffee, like espresso?” my husband asked as he ordered.
“We make it with coffee grounds and water then dump a whole bunch of sugar in it,” Yoder said.
When Salih brought it to the table, my husband sighed. It tasted vaguely of cardamom and was as thick and sludgy as the Brazilian coffee he makes at home — coffee so strong I’ve seen some houseguests pour it down the kitchen sink when he was not looking.
“That’s real coffee!” he said. “Not potato water.” He tips the pot to show me the layer at the bottom and asks Salih, “Do you read fortunes in the coffee grounds?”
“Yes,” Salih says.
Why was I was not surprised when even into the wee hours of the next morning, Otavio still had a Kurdish coffee buzz going? But, hey, if it affects a mere mortal that way, just imagine what the Avengers could do with a similar java jolt.