Serious Eats: New York
The Vegetarian Option: Jordanian Cuisine at Levant
New Yorkers are getting specific about their food revolutions. "Chinese food" doesn't cut it; the new hot restaurants are increasingly specialists in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Henan cuisines, just to name a few. The same is becoming true for Middle Eastern cuisine as more Egyptian, Israeli, and Turkish restaurants embrace their particular heritages. Which brings us to Levant on Court Street in Brooklyn, which specializes in Jordanian cooking.
You can order small plates, mezes, individually or in groups of three or five ($7, $17, $27 respectively). Levant offers three different types of falafel: Syrian (the most familiar, made with chickpeas), Egyptian (made with fava beans, also known as taamiya), and Jordanian, made with a mix of both chickpeas and favas. The falafel are fried to order and are remarkably crisp on the exterior, not greasy at all. The Jordanian falafel's innards are soft and well-seasoned, though some more herbs would be a welcome addition.
For another meze, here is the mousa'a, a cold sautéed eggplant dish with tomato, peppers, and onions. The eggplant is left in large chunks so it stays intact even after long cooking.
And for a third meze: khyar bil laban, a refreshing mix of cucumbers, mint, and yogurt. The pleasant flavor of cucumber permeates the entire bowl.
All of this is served with a couple of large, warm, puffed up pitas. I spent some time making up miniature sandwiches with different variations of all of the mezes.
Of the manakeesh ($7), described as a cross between a pita and a pizza, there are many vegetarian options to choose from. Pictured above is the gibneh wa zaatar topped sheep milk kashkaval cheese and za'atar. Despite the slight saltiness of the cheese and the sesame, herbs, and sumac in the za'atar, the flatbread is lacking in flavor.
All of this food is familiar—falafel, eggplant, cucumbers in yogurt, and flatbread pizza—but with enough of a twist that even serious fans of Middle Eastern cuisine will feel like they're trying something new. New York has more than its share of anonymous Mediterranean and Middle Eastern joints; Levant is refreshing in its specificity.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.