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Just ask Ronnie, Danny and Johnny Dubbaneh, the brothers behind Z&Z. One of their most vivid childhood recollections entails their father, Issa, sitting on the breakfast desk contained in the household home in Rockville, following his common morning ritual. He would take a piece of bread, maybe made contemporary by his spouse, Muna, and dunk it in olive oil, ending it with a dredge in za’atar aromatic with wild thyme and sumac. This chunk — heat, natural and citrusy, evoking lands removed from suburban Maryland — would awaken the senses like no cup of espresso ever may.
The flavors that Issa craved each morning are the identical ones discovered on za’atar manoushe, the traditional Levantine flatbread topped with olive oil and a beneficiant dusting of the namesake spice mix. Za’atar manoushe simply occurs to be the signature dish at Z&Z, a store influenced by the Dubbaneh household’s elders but one they by no means may have opened themselves. The DC market simply wasn’t prepared for it of their time.
You see, Ronnie, Danny and Johnny come from a household with a lengthy historical past within the restaurant enterprise. Their father’s facet of the household got here from the territories of Palestine, their mom’s from Jordan. They had been immigrants who knew the challenges and limitations of attempting to promote meals to diners within the Washington space. Immigrants who needed higher lives for his or her kids and inspired them to pursue careers by which their garments would not odor of fryer oil on the finish of the day. Immigrants who realized that, in the long run, they’d little management over the passions of their sons.
Food “was just where our hearts were,” Danny advised me one afternoon throughout a telephone name.
How the homeowners of Z&Z manoushe bakery would spend a excellent day in DC
But Ronnie, Danny and Johnny additionally had time on their facet. Unlike their father and maternal grandfather — males who owned carryouts specializing in fried rooster, burgers and subs — Ronnie, 36, Danny, 34, and Johnny, 29, got here of age at a time when the American palate is open to suggestion and chance.
Danny and Johnny, the brothers accountable for day-to-day operations, jumped on the alternative to dedicate their lives to manoushe, in ways in which earlier generations may by no means have fathomed: They give up white-collar jobs to chase after the right flatbread. They experimented for weeks, which changed into years, on dough recipes. They scoured the Middle East for herbs and spices, which they’ve mixed into a customized za’atar mix. They sampled numerous olive oils till they landed on a buttery Tunisian model that aligns nicely with their specific za’atar.
Their efforts—at researching Levantine foodways after which pushing ever so gently in opposition to their boundaries—have culminated in a flatbread that borrows from road meals traditions with out being subservient to them. The brothers have created a dough that, by their very own admission, is maybe puffier and extra developed than the foldable rounds discovered on the streets of Lebanon and elsewhere. It’s like manoushe as run by way of the paces at an artisan pizzeria, and it makes for a very good base it doesn’t matter what toppings you order.
The place to begin at Z&Z is with the za’atar manoushe, appropriately dubbed the “classic.” It’s a flatbread carpeted with za’atar, which can concurrently tantalize and confuse your palate. Z&Z’s spice mix type of smacks of oregano, however not solely oregano. It type of tastes like thyme, however not unadulterated thyme. Yet no matter herb you detect—or pondering you detect—will probably be lower and complemented with the toasty crackle of sesame seeds and the metallic tang of sumac. The spice combination makes for a dish like no different.
Eating a complete za’atar manoushe may also lead to palate fatigue, which is partly why I discover myself leaning towards different flatbreads at Z&Z. Sometimes I go for variations on the theme, just like the delightfully named Toum Raider, which is mainly the traditional manoushe accessorized with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, contemporary herbs, and parallel traces of toum, the emulsified garlic sauce that vaporizes into pungent cumulus clouds upon first bites.
I’ve eaten my means by way of the manoushe menu, and I’ve observed one thing fascinating: The base for the vegetarian flatbreads tends to be softer and chewier than the one for a meat- or cheese-based manoushe, which tends to be extra crackerlike. . I requested the brothers about this, and so they had a easy clarification: The veg-centric manakish (the plural of manoushe) begin and end on the saj, the dome-shaped griddle that radiates warmth from the underside solely. By distinction, the flatbread for a meat or cheese choice is heated on the range earlier than its toppings are added; then the totally loaded manoushe is completed in a convection oven to guarantee the whole lot is correctly cooked. In my expertise, the latter method leads to a drier, crispier crust.
To be sincere, I want the softer manoushe, which retains extra of the earthy, whole-wheat sweetness of the brothers’ dough. But, I have to admit, it is a choice with out conviction, as a result of I’ll gladly wolf down a complete rooster shawarma manoushe, its star ingredient combating for consideration with the brined Arab pickles, pickled turnips and toum, every a pressure of its personal. I’m additionally a fan of the recent halaby honey manoushe, one thing of a trend-monger among the many flatbreads, with its syrupy utility of wildflower honey to steadiness out the Aleppo pepper and sujuk sausage.
Z&Z Manoushe Bakery could have a small footprint, however it has an expansive attain. Its merchandise — Z&Z-branded za’atar, sumac and sea salt — could be bought on-line, whereas its line of frozen manoushe is obtainable at Whole Foods and different shops within the DC space. The brothers have constructed a household enterprise that brings alongside everybody within the clan. Their enterprise depends on the help of sisters DeAnna and Ronia, cousin Michael and even the mother and father. Their storefront has household historical past, too. It used to be the situation of their grandfather’s store, Chicken Tonight, which Fayez Khawaja and his son ran for greater than 20 years.
The increasing Z&Z empire has its advantages, particularly for a store open solely 4 days a week. On these afternoons when you’ve gotten a hankering, you do not have to watch for Z&Z to swing open its door. You can warmth up a frozen manoushe, which can not evaluate to one contemporary off the sage, however it does a fairly imply impersonation.
Even higher, the frozen line contains a “cocktail” manoushe, a half-za’atar and half-cheese flatbread that is obtainable solely as a special-order merchandise on the retailer. The trick is to fold the cocktail in half earlier than devouring it. The cheese and za’atar meld into one, surrounded on two sides by flatbread. It’s like a Levantine quesadilla, however to the uninitiated, it is extra like discovering a new greatest pal.
1111 Nelson St., Rockville, Md., 301-296-4178; zandzdc.com.
Hours: 11 am to 8 pm Thursday and Friday, 10 am to 8 pm Saturday, and 10 am to 7 pm Sunday. Closed Monday by way of Wednesday.
Nearest Metro: Rockville, with about a 1.5-mile journey to the bakery.
Prices: $1 to $25 for the whole lot on the menu or out there.