Manakeesh, a bakery located at 4420 Walnut St., has given the ethnic corridor a reputation as the “New Lebanon.”
As families stood in line before piles of desserts Sunday afternoon, 14-year-old Hasan Ghazzawi explained various desserts to intrigued visitors.
“We have a family of fried dough — crispy, crunchy, gooey and one topped with drizzled honey,” he said. He also described date-filled cookies called shamiyyat and shortbread mamoul cookies.
Manakeesh — named after the flatbread Lebanese sandwich — has taken residents with its foreign creations, which center on 19 vegetarian and halal meat manakeesh varieties.
“The food is delicious and tea is relaxing,” said history graduate student Jeremy Dell, seated on a couch below Arabic alphabet scrolls.
“It’s comfortable,” he said. “It’s like a little Beirut.”
Abd Ghazzawi, who manages the bakery-cafe, grew up in the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, the mosque across the street. His former job was to sell windows before Manakeesh owner Wissam Chatila invited him to run the cafe.
Teaming with a chef from Canada and a two-foot dome oven shipped from Lebanon that heats to 700 degrees, the duo added a third addition: Abd’s younger brother, Hasan.
The restaurant is situated blocks from nearly a dozen Ethiopian, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, representing the latest in grub fare just 5 minutes from campus.
Manakeesh’s culinary variety is centered on its soft flatbreads, as well as its traditional teas and coffees.
“This is the first manakeesh I’ve seen,” comparative literature graduate student Asma Al-naser said. “Most places in Philadelphia serve just the kabob.”
The cafe also boasts modern Middle East decor with leather couches, Wi-Fi and Lebanese hospitality.
According to Chatila, Manakeesh’s presence complements the Lebanese restaurant Saad Halal, which is located on the opposite corner.
“We do dessert and manakeesh. They’re a sit-down destination for lunch and dinner,” Ghazzawi explained, adding that the bakery will offer outdoor seating and delivery by the summer.
One hour before closing, Ghazzawi took last minute orders, eyeing his younger brother Hasan to lock the doors and check up on families.
“Everybody who comes in is nice,” Hasan said, passing by a few tables. “The customers don’t complain. We want new customers to try our food.”
At 4 p.m., Hasan sat down to eat a late lunch of cheese manakeesh. The crowd still had not thinned by the 5:30 p.m. closing time.
“Before working here, I hardly saw [Abd],” Hasan said. “He would just come home from work, talk about Manakeesh, or dream about it. Becoming part of what he dreamed about — its been fun. Well, he bosses me around, but that’s normal. I get tips. I like that.”Comments powered by Disqus
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