A Cold Meal at al Badawi
Ayat’s new sister restaurant needs to sort out its vibes.
I texted my friend Mia immediately after hearing about al Badawi that we needed to try it. Al Badawi, which advertises itself as “The first family-style Palestinian restaurant in the heart of Brooklyn,” just recently opened in November. Mia’s a stylish gal, so I countered her vegetarian hesitation and her aversion to traveling into Brooklyn by saying, “We need to stay on the cutting edge,” and she was in. Two days prior to our Sunday dinner, the only reservation we could get was at 6pm.
Al Badawi is owned and operated by Abdul Elenani and Akram Nassir. Elenani’s first restaurant Ayat, located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn and dedicated to Elenani’s wife, has made a huge splash on the restaurant scene for serving bistro-style Palestinian food. For that reason, al Badawi’s opening has garnered a lot of attention in the food media.
The location is great: easily accessible by subway, al Badawi can be found at 151 Atlantic Avenue, mere steps away from Brooklyn’s own legendary Lebanese grocery store Sahadi’s. I arrived 20 minutes before Mia, which meant that I had the opportunity to really take stock of the place.
At the door, guests are ushered in by an elaborate display of fake flowers, the type of spread that gets put up outside the venue of your trashiest friend’s wedding as a photo op. Inside, the atmosphere is just as strange for a high-brow Brooklyn restaurant: the fake flora continues, with bright, fluorescent spotlights illuminating a wall of greenery on the left hand side of the space. On the opposite wall, the branches of a tree mural are accentuated by plastic vines, which frame the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem that acts as al Badawi’s mascot.
Once my eyes adjusted to the decor, I found the space to be inviting and lively. I sipped my water from a terracotta pot and got a refill from a beautiful (and I’m assuming very heavy) jug as I watched the families around me chatter. If nothing else, al Badawi definitely delivers on their promise of a family-friendly meal: with massive tables and massive portions, this experience is meant to be shared.
At this point, Mia finally arrived, with the unfortunate announcement that she did not believe in sharing plates. I sighed.
Mia got the seven-cheese flatbread, which looked like your basic cheese pizza on pita. I ordered the Fattat Jaj, a six-layer dish with rice, chicken, chickpeas, pita chips, mint yogurt, and almonds. The menu indicated that this $28 dish was for 1–2 people, so I knew the portion was going to be on the larger side; but I was still SHOCKED when the Fattat Jaj made its lumbering way to our table. It could easily have fed six people. “I guess now we know why every single table has an enormous to-go bag sitting on it,” I said.
The Fattat Jaj was quietly pleasant: the pita chips and the nuts give the dish an exciting crunch, and the mint yogurt ties together all the ingredients in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of an elevated Chipotle burrito bowl. I would advise against ordering the flatbread, which Mia eventually (and begrudgingly) allowed me to taste in the name of accurate journalism — the pita was too thin to support even two or three cheeses, so with seven it was really overloaded. Both dishes arrived at the table lukewarm, which meant that neither of us finished our meal, and we joined the other tables in asking for two large takeaway bags.
Al Badawi may just be the next big thing. They know their niche, and they’ve certainly put a lot of thought into branding, with a cheesy Instagram presence and obnoxious to-go bags that act as advertisements in and of themselves (pictured below). Judging by how their large dining room is booking up days in advance, it’s easy to see that their marketing strategy is working — the blue domed temple of al Badawi is on the rise.
However, with lame menu offerings like an Americanized flatbread and food that is served cold, the restaurant still has a few kinks to work out before I foresee it becoming as well beloved as its sister restaurant Ayat. Despite its charms, I think that ultimately, the room is too garish and the portions too homogenous for al Badawi to really succeed in the current climate of competitively Instagrammable, photo-forward food. Would it really kill them to lower the lights?
This article is part of my series of restaurant reviews. To read more, check out Don’t Disturb, Hannah is Eating.