When Abdul Elenani opened Ayat in October 2020, the mission was simple: He wanted to showcase Palestinian cooking, something that his wife, Ayat Masoud — a lawyer and avid home cook, whose recipes are used throughout the restaurant — had pointed out was desperately needed in the city. The fast-casual spot in Bay Ridge, which was named after her and is in many ways a collaboration between the couple, quickly became a hit, and in less than three months, New York Times food critic Pete Wells had stopped by with a positive review.
Less than a year later, the restaurant is already growing with the opening of Al Badawi at 151 Atlantic Avenue, near Clinton Street, in Brooklyn Heights on Tuesday, November 9. “The intention, to be honest, was to just keep it to that location. It’s hard enough to find people to staff one restaurant alone,” says Elenani, who also owns the coffee shops Cocoa Grinder and Falahi Farms, a grocery store, and Belgian spot Fritebar — all while running his own construction business.
But in the coming months, Elenani will also debut a second location of Ayat near Industry City, and he’s hinted that more Ayats are already in the works beyond New York City.
Unlike Ayat, though, Al Badawi will be full-service and larger than its sibling, with capacity for nearly 100 diners between its indoor and outdoor set-ups. Many of the menu items overlap with what’s available at Ayat — such as the kebabs, and the prized mansaf (a fermented yogurt-based lamb dish), among other Palestinian recipes — but a considerable number of new items are on display. When Al Badawi launches it will be open everyday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Unique to Al Badawi, is the malfouf (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, parsley, tomatoes, onions, ground meat, and spices), as well the extensive pizza menu — made with a mix of whole wheat and regular flours in the oven — with nine different options that run the gamut from a seven-cheese pie with pistachios to a shawarma version. Other dishes distinct to the restaurant include family recipes for fasolia (green beans and beef in a tomato stew), bamia (a tomato stew with okra and beef), and ouzi (a rice dish made with beef, chicken, or lamb and dotted with peas and carrots).
Dishes will be served family-style and the environment, in part given the new neighborhood, will be slightly higher-end.
“With the much larger kitchen, we have more flexibility to highlight traditional Palestinian dishes that take much more time and effort,” says Elenani. “I needed a space to really introduce dishes that are unique to Palestine.” Elenani’s longtime friend, Akram Nassir, owner of Yemen Cafe down the street on Atlantic Avenue (who originally owned what has become the Al Badawi space with a different concept that didn’t pan out) has joined Elenani as co-owner for the new Palestinian spot.
As many ingredients as possible are sourced directly from Palestinian farmers, which Elenani says is important to him in building a stage for the cuisine here in Brooklyn. One of those ingredients is the olive oil, a nod to the restaurant’s name and references the oldest olive tree in the world, said to be in Palestine. “At the end of the day, Palestinian farmers do need external support,” says Elenani. “If we don’t start by supporting them and keeping their businesses going then what’s our purpose in life?”
But the restaurant is just one prong of Elenani’s vision. Soon, he will be moving full-time to his own farm in Pittstown, New Jersey, called Heartland, where, as of three months ago, he now produces his own halal lamb and beef that he uses in the restaurant — closing the loop on his meat production.
When Ayat first opened on Third Avenue, Elenani says they faced harassment for using the restaurant to share their political beliefs, something they’ve continued to be targeted for. Other Palestinian restaurant owners with whom Eater has spoken in the past have expressed similar sentiments: Some say even just referring to their restaurant as proudly Palestinian can put them at risk for hate mail. Elenani hopes that the new neighborhood welcomes Palestinian cuisine.
“For me, food isn’t enough to keep me driven. There has to be a bigger purpose and the bigger purpose is to bring awareness to the culture of Palestine,” says Elenani. “That it’s an actual country, that actually exists and has for thousands of years.”