Located on the northeast corner of Bond St. and Atlantic Av., Bedouin Tent is the least flashy of the three-restaurant cluster on that corner. Its menu suggests that it is run by a Jordanian family, and that it has been a neighborhood staple for nearly fifteen years; that’s no small feat in a neighborhood that must have looked vastly different fifteen years ago. Perhaps its location, sandwiched between the heavily Muslim area near 3rd and 4th Aves. and the Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods, has helped. I was turned on to it by reader Matt A., who submitted the first suggestion to the Twenty Bucks e-mail box. Thanks, Matt!
Matt was right on the money – the food at Bedouin Tent is quite excellent. The freshly baked pita bread is a revelation, taken from a pizza oven that dominates the restaurant’s décor. It’s much more flaky and doughy than the usual pita product, particularly when just removed from the oven (the pita, sadly, doesn’t make the takeout trip nearly as well). Speaking of oven products, I haven’t tried a “pitza,” but there were several that came from the oven while I waited for a recent takeout order that left me nearly drooling on the counter – the ground lamb version known as lambajin, and one that appeared to use artichoke hearts to great effect.
What have I tried? Arriving with a fresh pita, the hummus is cool and perhaps smokier in flavor than Hummus Place’s version. It’s also oil-infused and extremely fresh-seeming. I liked it, but perhaps not enough to order again – Hummus Place has spoiled me rotten, and $4 seems a bit steep for a small portion.
I’ve also had the merguez (spicy lamb sausage) sandwich ($6), and it’s a delight. A huge hunk of the non-encased sausage is slapped on a fresh pita, snuggled up against lettuce, the freshest tomatoes this side of a farmer’s market, and a squirt of tahini. Of course, the star of the show is the medium-spiced sausage, and the spice adds a significant advantage over any kind of doner-like meat I’ve previously encountered. The spice masks the lamb’s natural skankiness – the ordinary smell and flavor don’t bother me, true, but this merguez might still be the perfect kebab meat.
On a recent weekend, I took advantage of a Chicken Ouzi (pronounced “uzi”) special – or, perhaps I should say, it took advantage of me. Complaining initially about the $12 price, I was hard-pressed to finish what was presented to me, and certainly not for lack of quality. Lying on a bed of fresh pita, the sides of the plate strewn with lettuce and tomatoes, a flaky pastry crust is placed, containing rice, cubed chicken, peas, toasted almonds, golden raisins, and some kind of light oily coating to hold everything together. Unsweetened yogurt comes on the side. Unbelievably delicious and easily enough to feed two – when I had eaten until nearly full, I decided to roll up the pita and eat the rest like a sandwich. Lo and behold, the sandwich was bigger than the merguez version! I practically rolled home that night.
Not to be missed, despite the filling mains, are Bedouin Tent’s desserts. Now, I’ve eaten a lot of baklava in my life, generally infused with varying degrees of pistachio, finely or coarsely chopped, and many times so soaked in honey that it was hard to taste anything else. Not true of this version ($2) – the primary flavor is, astonishingly, cinnamon, and there’s just enough honey to hold everything together without the usual “sticky sweet.” Sublime and possibly the best version I’ve had anywhere, including my favorite Syrian restaurant in Berlin.
One dessert that good would be enough, but Bedouin Tent has another – a cake made with semolina flour, honey, and yogurt, and called basbousa ($2). Looking like a yellow cake that maybe rose not quite enough, and topped with toasted almonds, the basbousa is also just sweet enough without being over-honeyed. It’s quite dense, too, without being overly rich or overly crumbly – just perfect pastry all around.
Bedouin Tent is no secret, and I’m glad of that, kind of. Funny story: I encountered my first photoblogger there, taking pictures of his chicken, hummus, and babaghanouj platter and inquiring as to the composition of the sauce on the side (for the record, it was tahini). It felt very meta, particularly knowing that I would be writing about the place soon, and having read Lindsayism’s recent rant about the ruinous ubiquity of photobloggers. I mean, the poor schmuck must have taken five minutes to set up the perfect picture of his food, which I thought was totally nuts. So, in case you’re wondering why I don’t have photos: true, I’m not a good photographer and I don’t have a good camera, but more importantly, I don’t want to screw around when presented with a dish of food as good as the ones I’ve had at Bedouin Tent. Not touching that pita for five minutes after oven removal is damn near criminal.