Karam, a bustling, well-loved neighborhood lunch joint in the heart of Bay Ridge, may be out of the way for many New Yorkers, but it's still managed to attract a fair amount of media attention for its juicy, garlicky chicken schwarma sandwich, on which we gave our seal of approval a couple of years ago. But its extensive vegetarian mezze options deserve some praise, too.
A $12 plate of Mixed Cold Appetizers (pictured at top) gets you pretty much every cold mezze you want to try: on a recent visit I selected (clockwise from 12 o'clock) Italian beans, eggplant salad, hummus, baba ghanoush, fava beans, and stuffed grape leaves (the staff threw in one falafel for good measure). Most everything on this plate was excellent: so-called "Italian" or flat green beans, stewed into submissive sweetness, are bound with a rich, oily tomato sauce; the eggplant salad's smokiness is shot through with the brightness of lemon and the fieriness of raw green pepper; grape leaves are tender and rolled around a lemony, dill-flecked rice filling; fava beans are soft and slicked in an assertive garlicky dressing that shows up on many a dish at Karam.
When it comes to hot mezze, it's best to avoid the Fried Cauliflower ($4), which, reheated in a microwave, goes limp and oily; after all, that will just leave more room for Karam's excellent Stuffed Eggplant and Zucchini ($2.50 each), which burst with flavorful rice filling studded with whole chickpeas and diced tomatoes.
It would be a crime to leave Karam without ordering one of its excellent Pies: huge rounds of fluffy, naan-like flatbread ($1.75-4) topped, variously, with diced tomatoes, cheese and spinach. Classic za'atar is always a good bet: toasty with sesame seeds, earthy with thyme and lemony with ground sumac, you'll want to have the bread on hand to mop your plate.
Karam is one of the many small, independent shops and restaurants that make Bay Ridge so fun to visit: homey and familiar—even on a first visit—its excellent food is just one more reason to kick back and stay awhile.