At first, I worried that I’d picked the worst possible moment to visit Duzan, a Palestinian restaurant in Astoria: the entryway to the restaurant was littered with a small pile of lumber and construction tools, and I approached the place just as one of the owners was about to light up a cigarette outside. He apologized for the mess as I walked in, explaining that he was working on updating the look of the place, and that he didn’t have a basement to store his supplies.
I’m never bothered by a little bit of construction debris (drywall dust adds a nice crunch to any salad—try it sometime), and actually just felt guilty for interrupting the guy during his construction break. The man was clearly in full multitasking mode: as I stared indecisively at the menu, he had a brief, frantic conversation (in Arabic) with a neighbor, dashed out of the store for a quick errand while apologizing to me again for the mess, and then returned to prepare my meal(s).
I was in no hurry, and lazily read a few articles on my phone while I waited. At some point, I glanced up, and saw him slicing a cucumber for my salad. I looked up again a few minutes later, and realized that he was mashing fava beans with a spoon. No pre-cooked crap here: Duzan’s co-owner was making everything completely from scratch while I waited.
The fattoush salad was phenomenal: diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and marinated chunks of toasted pita bread, freshly tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and topped with sumac. For $5.95, I figured that the salad would be pre-made, or that the vegetables would at least be pre-cut. Nope. Even the dressing was made on the spot.
I certainly would have expected something like foul mudammas (fava beans mashed with garlic, olive oil,
drywall and lemon juice; imagine hummus, but with fava beans instead of chickpeas) to be pre-made. Nope. The fava beans were mashed on the spot with a spoon, and hand-stirred with the other ingredients. It was served with an abnormally fluffy pita, pulled straight from the oven.
But the real treat was the chicken shawarma ($5.95), which is apparently Duzan’s specialty. (I tried to order lamb. The owner’s response: “Lamb is off the menu. You want chicken shawarma.”). There’s no shortage of shawarma sandwiches in NYC (you know what they say: swing a dead cat in NYC, and you’ll hit a shawarma stand), but great ones are surprisingly rare: the meat is often old and crusty or nauseatingly oily, and the pita is frequently stale and sad. At Duzan, the meat was tender and shockingly lean, the warm (and unusually fat) pita was carefully brushed with olive oil, and the hummus was absolutely delicious—and presumably made just before I ate it. Easily the best shawarma sandwich I’ve eaten in this country.
I would have loved to find some of Palestine’s seldom-exported national dishes at Duzan—I drool whenever I read about maqluba (a pilaf of rice, lamb, cauliflower, and eggplant) or musakhan (roasted chicken on flatbread, topped with sumac, allspice, and fried pine nuts). Duzan, for better or worse, sticks with familiar Middle Eastern standards—mostly variations on foul, hummus, and shawarma. But when the food is so astoundingly fresh, how could I even think about complaining?
24-11 Steinway Street, Queens
(warning: google maps seems to get very confused by Duzan’s address… Duzan is located near the corner of Steinway & Astoria Blvd., no matter what google says)
Subway: Astoria Blvd. (N, Q trains)