Brooklyn’s Yemen Cafe: A familiar taste of a far away place

Brooklyn’s Yemen Cafe: A familiar taste of a far away place

The aroma of lamb stewing with cumin, chili and spices brings me back to my time navigating Istanbul’s winding cobblestone streets.

There must have been something in the Efes that makes the siren song coming from the lokantas just a little bit louder past midnight.

So while  Yemen is many miles from Turkey and Brooklyn is many, many miles from Istanbul, the smells coming from the kitchen at Yemen Cafe were unmistakable.

 About a third of the dozen or so tables were filled when my brother and I arrived, but the conversation and bouts of laughter coming from surrounding tables made it feel full.

All the food, minus the already  eaten soups.

All the food, minus the already  eaten soups.

A meal at Yemen Cafe starts with complimentary bowls of marag,  a light lamb broth soup.

The black tea that comes with each meal is self-service and pre-sweetened with plenty of sugar. No cream needed.

Up next came fasoolia, a plateful of sauteed white kidney beans with vegetables, garlic and plenty of cumin, a perfect foil for the perfectly charred flatbread.

All the entrees at Yemen Cafe are either lamb or chicken, with the exception of the fish of the day and the aptly named “vegetarian dish.”

Naturally, we both opted for lamb. The lamb hanieeth, which the restaurant bills as world-famous, is a delicious slab of lamb so tender a stern gaze could probably make it fall off the bone.

It comes with a side of rice pilaf topped with a saucy vegetable stew. The okra in the stew, with just a tiny bit of its characteristic gel-like consistency, was a nice touch.

The lamb fahsa comes in a sizzling stone bowl, but a dish like this doesn’t need fanfare to be delicious.  

At first glance, the whipped fenugreek foam on top reminded me of the boiling hot brown butter that tops platters of Turkish Iskender kebab.

The airy foam wouldn’t be out of place as a component on a lavish tasting menu that costs as much as a month’s rent, but here, it’s topping a bowl of rich, meaty stew with no discernible vegetables.

Not only does the stone bowl keep the stew hot, it continues to cook it. After 15 minutes or so, a caramelized fond built up along the sides of the bowl. A treat to scrape off and enjoy.

My sympathy for the employee responsible for cleaning the bowls, but it’s worth it.


Yemen Cafe & Restaurant

Addresses: 176 Atlantic Avenue (Cobble Hill) and 7130 5th Avenue (Bay Ridge).


Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Daily.