New York

‘Bearded Bakers' Serve Up Knafeh Desserts From Shipping Containers

At Knafeh New York, you'll find only the eponymous dessert on the menu. It'll be served by men in white dancing to thumping music inside a tricked-out shipping container.

Yes, there's a lot to process for an eatery that sticks to a one-item menu. 

The knafehs are being dished up at the first New York outpost of the Australian bakery, which has made appearances at the Queens Night Market and the 3rd Avenue Festival in Bay Ridge.

As you order your knafeh, you'll see the so-called bearded bakers ladling batter into plates, spritzing rose water wash with grand arcs of the arm, and drizzling syrup with flourish, all making for entertaining dessert theater. But it's interactive, too: they dance and beat on drums and jump over the counter to dance with the crowd as music plays. 

The creamy knafeh is then presented in a small pie plate, the top torched over so that it's like a creme brulee, complete with a sweet crunchy coating that cracks open with the most satisfying of whacks. 

While a sweet staple all across the Middle East, this particular recipe for knafeh happens to be created by founder Ameer El-Issa's mother back in Sydney. It became a cult hit when it landed on the menu at a restaurant he was helping to open at the time, and when the restaurant became overwhelmed by the demand, El-Issa decided to create a concept space devoted exclusively to the dessert.

He drew on his background as an architect and an old dream of creating something out of shipping containers (he'd done a case study on them while in school) -- and the box-based Knafeh bakery was born. 

The Knafeh New York shipping container was outfitted in Sydney and shipped from there over water, taking six weeks to arrive in New York. It's been open for business for about a month here, and also has locations in Sydney, where it launched three years ago, and in Melbourne. 

El-Issa, whose father was born in Jerusalem and mother in Jordan, says he comes from a family where "we were always surrounded by food and people," and learned the pleasure of eating was just as much about the experience as the product.

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There's no rhyme or reason to how they have fun, El-Issa says -- they just go with the flow, and the music they play follows no set playlist. There's a bit of European and Middle Eastern music, there's some hip-hop and R&B, there are classic American standards. 

"We feel like it's very hard to have knafeh and not be happy," El-Issa said simply.

Knafeh New York been set up at the Queens Night Market the past few Saturdays, and will be there again for the last weekend of the season, on Oct. 21. 

Knafeh has also set up shop in Bay Ridge the past few Sundays and made other appearances around town. It will head across the Hudson to New Jersey on the weekend of Oct. 28 and 29. 

"Queens has been amazing, Brooklyn's been incredible," El-Issa said of the month that he's been in New York so far with the entire Knafeh team from Sydney (including his mother).

He's hoping to eventually recruit local "bakers and shakers" to start running the shop, then has his eyes set on expanding internationally.

"Once we can make it in New York, we can make it anywhere." 

To see where Knafeh will set up next in New York, follow them on Facebook and Instagram

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