In Beirut there is a manaish restaurant about every fourth apartment building, says Shaunt Adessian, chef and owner of Shanto’s Bakery. Lebanese residents have these savory flatbreads pretty much every morning. I can see why. After trying Shanto’s various offerings, I’m totally hooked. I am now on a mission to try each and every manaish and wrap. I’ve tried 10 so far. Told you I love this place.
The secret to their beguiling appeal is in the oven. Shaunt brought his iron, spindly legged contraption over from Lebanon. It gets super-hot and bakes the freshly made dough into fragrant, slightly crispy, eight-inch flat rounds that smell of earth, wood and ancient history.
The toppings are beautifully simple — baby spinach and Syrian cheese with a sprinkling of sumac ($2.99), zaatar (a blend of herbs and spices) with copious amounts of creamy, tangy lebni ($1.99), or lahmajoun, a thick paste of ground beef, tomatoes, garlic, onions, parsley and spices ($1.49). Those are my personal favorites so far, but the jambon and cheese ($2.99), spicy soujouk sausage and egg ($2.99), and the Beirut esfiha, which is like lahmajoun but with the tartness of pomegranate, ($2.29), are running close seconds.
And the grilled halloumi wrap ($2.99) with its big chunk of halloumi cheese grilled on the outside, soft on the inside, is a refreshing delight, thanks to the tomato, cucumber and lettuce inside. The only one I did not like is the patata harra ($2.99). French fries, tahini and garlic sauce are wrapped in a warm pita with a slice of pickle. That’s too many carbs for my taste, but it could easily be another diner’s favorite.
The owners are genuinely warm and seem intent on creating an atmosphere that pleases the senses. Right off the bat, the whole place smells like cleanliness and fresh-baked bread. Since this is a casual, order-at-the-counter dining spot, I expected my Lebanese tea to be in a Styrofoam cup. Instead it came in a porcelain mug on a porcelain plate with a glass of sugar, a spoon and an aromatic sprig of mint in the perfectly brewed tea. These little things go a long way in making a meal satisfying. My husband said one sip of his strong, black Armenian coffee took him right back to the villages of the Mediterranean.
Shanto’s is great for breakfast, lunch, snack or light dinner. The prices are amazingly fair. There are tables inside in the glow of televised European soccer games, or outside in the sunlight. Ordering to-go is easy as well. Their catering menu offers mini manaish by the dozen ($7.99 to $10.99).
If you find yourself craving a sweet thing (this is a bakery after all), there aren’t many choices, but I recommend the unique namoura, a square made of cream of wheat, flavored with orange blossom essence, almonds, and fresh clover honey. Again, your nose is just as engaged as your mouth.
Writing this is making me hungry. I’m going down the street to try manaish number 11.
Lisa Dupuy has been reviewing local restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Shanto’s Bakery
Where: 3747 Foothill Blvd, Unit C, La Crescenta
When: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Manaish (flatbread) and pita wraps $1.29 to $2.99, catering trays $7.99 to $10.99
Contact: (818) 330-9835