...a za'atar with cheese manosheeh. Not just any manoosheh of course, but one from the Lebanese chain called Breakfast To Breakfast.
To me, the name ''Breakfast To Breakfast'' reeks of something gimmicky, chainy, dull, totally mass produced, undifferentiated. Luckily, a few years ago, some humble soul in my family bypassed my snooty standards and ordered from the B To B (that's their official nickname. ack.) right around the corner. And well, the rest is history.
Our family favorite - and probably the thing that we've ordered 99.9% of the time is some variation of the aforementioned manoosheh (the 0.1% refers to the time I once deviated by ordering a platter of fried munchies one deliriously hungry evening earlier this year. Though even then I faintly remember scarfing down a manoosheh on the side.)
In my laymen terms (no offense intended to Levantine cuisine purists), a manoosheh is:
- ...a type of pizza that is most often associated with Lebanon, though I've yet to find an authoratative reference for its exact origin
- ...typically eaten for breakfast
- ...made of dough similar to pizza dough, stretched out thin, and sometimes folded down the middle like a sandwich. I was in the mood for a super thin crust today, aka 'light' in B to B lingo, so my manoosheh probably looks like its on the leaner side compared to the typical manakish (plural for manoosheh)
- ...dimpled along the surface with the baker's fingers so that you've got these shallow craters where toppings can seep in. Tiny pools of flavorful topping. Ingenious.
- ...topped with a variety of toppings, including eggs, minced lamb, beef, lebneh (Greek yogurt)...but my two all-time favorites are the traditional za'atar with cheese and the probably not-so-traditional turkey with cheese.
Za'atar is an earthy, fabulously fragrant Middle Eastern spice blend that I've shamefully never quite been able to dissect despite the phenomenal khoobs (Arabic bread) and za'atar sandwiches that would be neatly packed every so often into my high school lunch box (mom, you rock.) Every place I've eaten it at has a slightly different twist on za'atar, though I'm quite certain that the mix at B to B contains specks of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds. That, together with a generous drizzle of olive oil before tossing the dough into the oven, and you've got a masterpiece in the making.
The cheese that B to B layers on its za'atar with cheese manakish is Akkawi cheese, a slightly salty white Middle Eastern cheese whose shredded strands melt together into warm cheesy patches on the inside once the manoosheh dough is baked. I typically prefer less cheese on my manoosheh - too much and (a) you've overwhelmed the star ingredient, the za'atar, and (b) you end up with a dough that's greasy rather than being light and pillowy.
When I stopped by at B to B today for my manoosheh takeout, I tried to squeeze out every last detail from the servers and chefs behind the counter in anticipation of writing it up on my blog. Sadly, they didn't even let me take photographs inside the place...the server and the chef were having some tiff about a cup of tea that was owed to one of the staff members, and my far superior demands to learn about and photograph every last detail of my manoosheh-in-the-making was sidelined. To their credit, they finally threw in a fatayer (pastry) with akkawi cheese as a free sample, which promptly succeeded in putting an end to my obnoxiously inquisitive questions and leaving them time to resolve their morning tea trials.
On a happier note, I would also highly recommend their turkey and cheese manoosheh...the thin sheets of turkey crisp up around the edges under the intense oven heat, while the center stays tender with shallow streams of olive oil running through.
I'd really love to learn how to make manakish at home, but the temptation of ordering in from B to B is just too much. I can't even resist breaking off a fridge cold piece of the dough to nosh on while waiting for leftovers to toast up the next day, so getting into the zone of finding recipes, baking and visualizing the end product is clearly lightyears away (ps. if you're on of those souls who occasionally indulges in a slice of cold pizza, you're sure to love this manoosheh right out of the fridge too). The day I finally muster up the courage to make my own manoosheh knowing all too well that my favorite one is just footsteps away, I'll probably refer to these two awesome online search hits that surfaced in my quest to unearth the science behind manakish - Fouad Kassab's informative Manakish post on his blog, The Food Blog (Q. how do you get such an awesome mother-of-food-blogs food blog name? Ans. get a domain in Australia.) and Serious Eats' write-up on za'atar.
(PS. I've tried the manakish at the local Zaatar W' Zeit as well, but something about the texture of the dough, simplicity of ingredients, and temperature of the manakish at ZWZ (B To B's has that 'hot out of the oven' feel while ZWZ is an insipid warm) doesn't speak to me in the way that the B To B manakish does.)