Middle Eastern food is experiencing a surge in popularity these days, particularly downtown. And like many new-wave ethnic restaurants, the food is more refined and inventive than what you might find in a more traditional restaurant. Two additions to this recent wave of modern Middle Eastern restaurants are 19 Cleveland and Shuka, both of which chose to set up shop in the Soho area. Expect to rub elbows with the trendy, fashion-y types who like their avocado toast with a little sprinkling of za’atar on top.
Shuka on MacDougal St was formerly known as Hundred Acres, a restaurant that was having an identity crisis of whether to define itself as greenmarket American or Middle Eastern, but now it’s fully flipped to the latter. The brunch menu reflects all the greatest hits of trendy Middle Eastern plates–the requisite pita with some sort of a hummus or feta/labneh dip, eggs shakshuka, falafel and shawarma.
It’s all done pretty well, with none of the flavors being heavy handed. The food is good in a safe and inoffensive way, a corporatized rendition of contemporary Middle Eastern cooking. It’s like listening to a OneRepublic song. It’s catchy and pleasant, but not really a contender for song of the year. And I saw them play at an Ernst & Young offsite a few years ago, so that just proves my point.
19 Cleveland, run by the team behind fast casual restaurant Nish Nush, is the more interesting and prettier of the two. It has that classic airy, white downtown loft aesthetic that makes it a perfect fit for the Soho hipsters. And while it also features Middle Eastern food you would recognize, it does so in a more creative way.
One of my favorites was its take on eggs benedict, a dish called bourekas benedict Jerusalem style, which foregoes the traditional english muffin for a buttery, luscious pastry. It was a tad heavy, as piling on cream on top of what is essentially a croissant can tend to be, but it was well worth the calories.
Avocado toast is of course an option, but the Middle Eastern inflections make this version not so basic. 19 Cleveland excels at these cultural mash ups, so if a vegan shawarma or a tunisian ciabatta catch your eye, take a chance and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
38 Macdougal St (between Prince and King St)
New York, NY 10012
19 Cleveland by Nish Nush
19 Cleveland Pl (between Spring and Kenmare St)
New York, NY 10012