Our quest to find frozen Lahmajun ended in Red Bank this weekend at Zaitooni Deli, a Lebanese cafe and deli located at 11 Mechanic Street. For those of you who are not familiar, Lahmajun (also Lahmacun or Lahmahcao) is a Middle Eastern pizza with Armenian origins. The crust is paper thin and topped with tomato, ground beef (or lamb) and spices. It is often served with squeezed lemon. They sell for around $16.00 for a package of ten. That is a great buy when you consider the price of a single, small, frozen pizza for one, with all the additives and preservatives that initiates gastro-chemical warfare. Lahmajun is uniquely delicious and has no preservatives. I toss one on a preheated cookie sheet for a few minutes and it is done. When I worked in Bergen County an Armenian co-worker told me where to buy them locally, but once my commute ended years ago, the spicy little rounds have eluded me, until now. You must try them if you never have.
On our trip that rainy Saturday, we were also blessed with finding this little Red Bank Lebanese food haven named Zaitooni Deli tucked away on a one way street a half block off Broad St. Upon entering we were warmly greeted by the proprietor, a friendly woman who made us feel right at home. We had plans of making our intended purchase and grabbing a quick lunch elsewhere, but there were too many
scrumptious looking, prepared treats that beckoned. We decided to try a Falafel Sandwich and a Lebanese meat pie. There are four tables in the place but being in a bit of a hurry and being true car foodies we got our treats to go. The falafel sandwich is bursting with falafel, a mixture of chick peas and fava beans that is deep fried. It is topped with lettuce and tomato and tahini and wrapped in a soft warm pita. It was a fabulous blend of textures and flavors and made a real mess but who cares. It was a delicious, unforgettable mess. The meat pie is a creation of ground beef, onions, pine nuts and spices, in a square folded crust. The blend of spices was perfect, very savory but not overpowering.
The display cases feature many of the homemade Lebanese and other middle Eastern dishes and choosing only two was extremely difficult. There was a freshly made Moussaka, Spanakopita, Hummus, Babbaghanouj and much more. The dessert case is filled with pastries like Baklava ( sold out early) and Namourah, a farina and honey cake similar to Greek Galektoboureko but containing the flavors of flower waters. A couple seated in the window were enjoying beautiful salads and there is always a selection of homemade soups including Mahklouta, a traditional bean and barley soup.
Zaitooni is now on my list of regular food destinations, not only to get my fix of Lahmajun, but for the many different choices of healthy and sumptuous dishes that are calling to me as I write this. I will not visit Red Bank without a visit to Zaitooni. I should also mention that there is nothing on the menu over seven dollars making it one of the best food deals in town. I never thought I would find yet another reason to love Red Bank, but I surely have.