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Food

For sand-brewed coffee and cheesy, crunchy and sweet knafeh, try Northridge

Katie Kevorkian makes sand coffee at the Korner K’nafeh pop-up in Northridge.
Katie Kevorkian makes sand coffee at the Korner K’nafeh pop-up in Northridge.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Strong coffee and warm sand both possess the power to coax Angelenos from their comfy beds. Now these two forces are working together at Korner K’nafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert pop-up in Northridge that’s practicing the traditional art of brewing coffee in sand.

The business was launched in November by friends and San Fernando Valley locals Mousa Helo, Oshin Artoonian and Patric Amar as a way of sharing their Middle Eastern heritage with the city they love.

During a trip to Jordan in 2017 to visit Helo’s relatives, they were awed by stands serving falafel, shawarma, kebabs and baklava to lively crowds. But the knafeh and sand coffee were what truly captivated them.

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“It is a foundation of the Middle East,” Helo says. “It is a dessert served when you have a loss and when you have a wedding. We’re introducing it to the streets and nightlife of Los Angeles.”

Chinatown today is a neighborhood in flux, a place of cultural collision with new energy, new entrepreneurs, and cultures from around the world.

Now you’ll find them serving k’nafeh Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the patio of Poseidon Restaurant & Lounge in Northridge.

There are nearly as many styles of knafeh as there are legends about its origins.

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A traditional k’nafeh, crunchy strands of phyllo encased in melted cheeses and soaked in sweet syrup, at Korner K’nafeh in Northridge.
A traditional knafeh, crunchy strands of phyllo encased in melted cheeses and soaked in sweet syrup, at Korner K’nafeh in Northridge.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The stand’s traditional knafeh — pie-shaped phyllo shaggily encasing gooey cheeses, the whole thing soaked in a sweet syrup — is a standout of the five varieties on offer, which include a Palestinian knafeh na’ameh, ashta-topped pistachio knafeh and a pressed croissant sandwich stuffed with knafeh and chocolate sauce.

Crunchy strands of brittle phyllo yield to a salty core of melted cheeses, before finishing on the hit of house-made rose blossom syrup that permeates every slice.

The vibe at the stand is a full-on party; music blasts from a loudspeaker while the owners sing, dance and pass around an ornate doumbek (a goblet-shaped drum) from Jordan. Cars cruise through for “take and bake” — platters to finish in their home ovens.

Despite the clamor, it’s hard to keep your eyes off of the giant wok filled with dark Malibu beach sand over an open gas flame.

Patric Amar assembles a traditional knafeh at the Korner Knafeh popup in Northridge.
Patric Amar assembles a traditional knafeh at the Korner K’nafeh popup in Northridge.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

A finely ground mix of dark and light roast Egyptian coffee is stirred with water into a steel Turkish coffee pot called a cezve. Amar’s fiancée, Katie Kevorkian, circles the pot through the sand, teasing the coffee to a boil, and then lifts it from the sand to allow the coffee grounds to fall to the bottom. She repeats this two more times before pouring the thick, bitter black coffee into small paper cups.

Dessert and coffee aside, Helo is thrilled to connect with an audience that may have never seen sand coffee, knafeh or people singing in the street before.

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When Trish Rothgeb coined the term “third-wave coffee” in 2002, she didn’t know it would be used to define an entire era in the coffee industry.

“We’re getting in touch with our heritage,” he says. “At the same time, we’re connecting a bunch of Middle Eastern and American communities that don’t know each other.”

Korner K’nafeh, 9310 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, instagram.com/kornerknafeh


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