At face value, Miznon is just another chain restaurant coming to New York — a seventh location for the counter-service pita spot, which has outposts in Tel Aviv and Paris, that’s essentially a fast food spin-off for a fine dining celebrity chef.
But when it opens in Chelsea Market today, owner Eyal Shani, who runs a dozen restaurants and is a regular presence on Israeli television, insists that it’s not a carbon copy of all the other locations. In fact, Miznon, he says, is about a sense of place. Half of the pita-packed menu will be unique to the 120-seat NYC restaurant, just as the menus in Melbourne and Vienna reflect those cities, he says.
“It’s a completely new creation, a new dream,” says Shani, exhibiting an earnest flair that surely made him a prime reality TV candidate. “And it’s always coming from the fact that I’m dreaming of a place, and I want to translate, to convert it into food. This Miznon is giving me a chance to do that.”
In practice, that means a menu of pitas filled with ingredients not commonly found at the dozens of Middle Eastern restaurants and street carts across the city. Here, pitas come stuffed with lobster and creme fraiche, an ode to the East Coast’s lobster rolls, and with corned beef and pickles, a nod to the reuben sandwiches of local delis.
Shani created one, called “folded cheeseburger in a pita,” after hearing that the local sandwich of New York is the hamburger. In it, burger meat is pressed in a machine to be flat like a tortilla, laid out on a plancha, topped with cheddar cheese, and then folded in half like an omelette. The resulting texture is half burger, half tartare. Such dishes aim to capture “the energy” of the city within a pita, he says. “The energy of New York is the energy of millions of individuals,” Shani says. “It’s the energy of trying to succeed. It’s the energy of freedom. It’s the energy of the mystery.”
Though he aims for the new outpost to feel distinctive, certain options like a falafel burger pita and a slow-roasted lamb short rib pita are replicas of the versions in Israel, where the no-frills restaurant is considered one of Tel Aviv’s best. And like other locations, the menu goes beyond bread sandwiches — Shani’s flagship dish is not a pita at all but a whole roasted cauliflower, an item he claims to have invented. It will be available in New York as well, eaten by tearing off darkened florets by hand. Another dish called “run over potato” involves a dramatic flattening of a baked potato with garlic, green onions, and sour cream.
Miznon is not the first pita-focused restaurant in Chelsea Market; Michael Solomonov’s wildly popular hummus counter Dizengoff is close. In a statement, a market spokesperson says it’s “two top tier chefs” doing “two very different concepts.” A Dizengoff spokeswoman says Solomonov is very excited about Shani’s new restaurant.
But Miznon first opened in 2011, arguably years before most fine-dining chefs started dipping their toes in more casual concepts. Still, Shani’s reasoning for opening Miznon now sounds like a familiar refrain. Like the chefs behind more recent restaurants such as Made Nice, Shani argues that the $9 to $15 sandwiches at Miznon still use carefully chosen ingredients and can be considered “fine cuisine.”
“I feel like a blessed one,” he says. “There’s a lot of knowledge inside this body. And I said to myself, ‘It cannot be that people like you and like me that got not so much money cannot afford themselves to eat my food.’” Pitas, with their mobility and versatility, made sense, he says. “Pita is a genius bread. It’s like a womb.”
Miznon opens in Chelsea Market, at 435 West 15th St. between 9th and 10th avenues, today. By Friday, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.