The guys at Yemen Café in Brooklyn don’t mess around: before we even had a chance to think about what we wanted to order, an efficient, non-communicative waiter slammed two bowls of soup, a few pieces of lemon, something resembling a fresh tomato salsa, a pair of salads topped with more of the salsa, and a gigantic piece of hot, fluffy, round flatbread—roughly the size of a medium pizza—on our table. No conversation, no questions. Suddenly, there was food. Tons of it. And we hadn’t even ordered yet. I liked this Yemen Café place.
After slurping down our soup (a dark, salty brew that tasted like meat stock with onion and a hint of cardamom) and salad, we decided to order haneez (roasted lamb, $19) and roasted chicken with salta ($15), generally considered Yemen’s national dish. As we waited for our meals, I started to suspect that we’d ordered well: I (unfortunately) don’t understand a lick of Arabic, but the server seemed to yell the words “salta” and “haneez” nearly every time he shouted an order back to the kitchen. Apparently, most of Yemen Café’s other patrons—the majority of whom appeared to be Yemeni—had selected the same dishes we did.
The haneez was a work of art: a ridiculously juicy roasted rack of lamb, served with a mountain of basmati rice and topped with a small scoop of stewed potatoes and carrots. I’d argue that the lamb was nearly as good as any I’ve ever eaten, but the salta was even more impressive: a sizzling metal bucket of whole okra, tomato, potato, and carrots, cooked in a frothy stew of anise, ginger, onion, cardamom, and whipped fenugreek. The salta was accompanied by a juicy chunk of roasted chicken (breast, thigh, drumstick, wing, and neck) with a beautiful smoky taste, along with yet another epic mound of basmati rice.
Which brings me to a random question: why don’t more people eat chicken necks? There’s nothing wrong with chicken necks. They taste like… well, chicken. I’ll admit that it’s a little bit harder to get at chicken neck meat than, say, chicken breast meat (though I still don’t understand the whole chicken breast thing… chickens have breasts? Male chickens, too?), but it’s not that hard. Where does all the neck meat go? When you get a “whole” rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, there’s no neck. Why not? Is it thrown out, or ground up into animal feed? I can understand leaving the head out—really, who wants to have dinner looking up at you?—but why leave out the neck? I don’t get it. Chicken necks are not scary.
Anyway, that roasted chicken was damned good, and large enough to stuff all but the most gluttonous diner. And once we’d eaten our way through about ¾ of our flatbread… boom! Another large, hot round loaf appeared on our table, without even a word from the waiter. The guy was amazing—not remotely rude or unfriendly, just efficient and generous with the bread. Yemen Café might not be the warmest, fuzziest dining experience in Brooklyn… but as long as the food keeps coming, I can live with that.
176 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn
Subway: Borough Hall (2, 3, 4, 5 trains)