It was only a week ago that the Israeli restaurant Miznon opened its seventh outpost (and first American branch) in Chelsea Market. The fast-casual chain, which has other places in Paris and Vienna, specializes in pita sandwiches, but it generally eschews the usual falafel, hummus, and baba ganoush. Instead, the thick pitas are presented with a choice of 13 stuffings; roughly half are vegetarian, and half are carnivorous. Many of the options are unusual, including ones intended to be identifiably American rather than Middle Eastern.
Miznon blew up amazingly fast: It seems that atypical pita sandwiches were just what the dining public was waiting for. Open only from 11 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. (though dinner has been promised), the restaurant is so crowded much of the afternoon that long waits are necessary.
But it’s not just the slow speed of the kitchen or long lines waiting to order that has caused the back-up: The fulfillment system is itself at fault. After placing an order, you’re given a number to take to your seat, whether it be a free-standing table, a counter, or bleachers. A few steps below ground level, the room seats 120 and spills tables out into the Chelsea Market hallway.
Your order doesn’t arrive by a runner searching for and finding your number in the melee of milling and seated customers. Instead, the runner wanders aimlessly, shouting out your name like a jilted lover. This is a loony system, and it contributes to the pandemonium experienced on my first two visits to Miznon. Both times I gave up and left without food.
By the third visit I’d figured out how to beat the system: Arrive just after 11 a.m., or around 5 p.m. It worked, and on two subsequent occasions I was able to acquire my food and sit and enjoy it with a wait of only 15 minutes for the food to arrive. Some of it can be spectacular.
First, I went for the “folded cheeseburger” ($11), not knowing what to expect. It turned out to be one of the repeatedly smashed burger patties like the kind they enjoy in Kansas City and Oklahoma, where the char on both sides is everything, making even mediocre beef taste good. As the name suggests, the burger is folded in half and deposited in a pita that’s been split and scooped, with cheese and dill pickles thrust in, making quite a wonderful variation on the usual.
The za’atar folded omelet ($8) is not quite as good. The eggs arrive underseasoned, though that can be partly remedied with the coarse sea salt on every table. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think the dry spice mixture called za’atar would have been more effective on the outside of the omelet. In lavan ($8), the combo of small cauliflower florets and tomatoes in a scallion and tahini dressing was especially tasty, with an agreeable moistness to the veggies.
In fact, cauliflower is Miznon’s signature ingredient. That same cauliflower can be enjoyed by itself, steamed and then charred. At $9 for an entire intact head, it’s more cauliflower than anyone wants, but might be shared by three or four. Another novelty that doesn’t involve a pita is “run over potato” ($6). A baked spud is flattened between two sheets of parchment, then smeared with chive dressing and served at room temp. You’ve never had a better potato — in Chelsea Market, at least.
On my second visit, I tried the wordy, “intimate Hereford (cow) and roots stew” ($11). It was like mom’s beef stew, American style, with a bit of a spicy kick. Pretty good, especially since the gravy soaks the bottom of the pita. But even hotter was a sandwich aficionados will recognize as a sibling of sabich, a classic Israeli sandwich featuring eggs and eggplant. Here the eggplant is incorporated into ratatouille, and the thing is dabbed with fiery green Yemenite zhug.
These pita sandwiches are not cheap. After all, it takes two to fill you up, and with tax and beverage you might blow $25. On the other hand, the novelty alone would make them worthwhile, and some of the sandwiches are very good indeed. Heck, I’d go for the run over potato alone. But please, Miznon, heat it up before you serve it.