**An abridged version of this article can also be found on OC Register’s Food Frenzy**
I’ve been a huge fan of middle eastern pizzas ever since I found out about them after moving to southern California 4 years ago. Ever since then I’ve been trying them out at various places specializing in them. Therefore, I guess it is not surprising that other cultures eat pizzas other than Italians and Americans. In the middle east, pizzas are quite the rage and eating them for breakfast is quite common, and although each region offers a slightly different variation, they all ultimately taste reasonably similar.
Owner Jack is Armenian, but has lived in Lebanon and speaks a host of the languages including Turkish and English, as he proudly proclaims. But an Armenian bakery/restaurant in the middle of Little Saigon? There is my favorite com tam place across the street and my favorite pho ga place right around the corner. And then, there’s Jack’s in the middle of the strip mall where a Vietnamese catering business and a barber shop shares the same lot.
I found out about Jack’s Bakery a few years ago from my friend Holly (Savored) and since then I’ve been going on and off whenever I felt like something middle eastern and didn’t want to travel too far. Ironically, I’ve never been to Jack’s with Holly, until now.
Last week, Holly and I were meeting for lunch and she suggests we go to Jack’s Bakery. I am excited because it’s been a while since my last visit and I was actually craving some of the delicious fare from this place. The minute we enter, Jack and his wife warmly welcome Holly like a long lost daughter and spent a good portion of time chatting to her.
I took the opportunity to peruse the menu on the wall and mentally make a note of everything I want to try. They’ve renovated the interior since my last visit and there are new photos up on the wall.
Naturally, we order too much seeing Holly wants specific items while I have my favorites I don’t want to miss. We decide to get everything our hearts desire and sat down to wait for Jack and his wife to cook it for us. Everything is cook-to-order so do not expect this to be fast food.
|onion salad with sumac
The restaurant is very small, seating at most, 15 people. There are a few chairs and tables outside as well as inside, but generally, people order and take out. Jack has a lucrative catering business as well so during the holidays he is busy preparing turkeys and whole roasted lambs for his customers.
Our food arrives and we start our mouthwatering feast with kuftes ($1.50) also known as kibbeh. These look like miniature footballs with a ground beef or lamb with pine nuts filling. The exterior is traditionally bulgar and these little delightful pockets are fried to crispy perfection. The menu shows a kufte platter, but if you are on your own, Jack will let you order a couple, even one if that’s what you want. The kuftes here are some of the best and not greasy like other places.
One of my favorites is the Armenian pizza, thin and topped with a minimal mixture, I can eat 2 or 3 of these in one sitting if I don’t eat anything else. Lahmajun are really tasty with tomato and ground meat and quite common in various middle eastern cuisines. Each region makes them a little differently and these taste similar to the ones I’ve had at a Lebanese bakery, perhaps an influence from Jack’s time in Lebanon.
Boyreg ($3.50-$7) are another delicious alternative to the pizza. They look like little pockets filled with anything from spicy cheese to sujuk (dry spicy sausage) or basturma (air-dried cured meat) and can also be topped with an egg. I highly recommend getting the egg because it adds a different texture and flavor to the usual boyreg.
Loaded manaish ($3) is similar to the pizza but topped with tomatoes, onions, olives, mint and some herbs and spices. It is rolled up, eaten like a wrap and wonderfully refreshing, a good selection for vegetarians or those staying away from meat.
Adana Kebab ($12) is what I come here for. Ground beef and lamb are combined with a blend of herbs and spices, grilled, and served with rice pilaf, hummus and an onion salad sprinkled with sumac. The seasonings on the meat is unbelievable and the meat is cooked to perfection so when you cut into it, the juices run out and when you take a bite, it is so juicy and moist on the inside you have to be careful not to burn your mouth.
If Jack has these “Armenian bagels” available, I urge you to try some. They are coated with sesame seeds and have a slightly sweet taste to them. They are excellent with coffee or tea and I love the fragrance of sesame seeds with my pastries.
Jack is extremely personable and if you’re unfamiliar with this sort of food, don’t be afraid to go in. He is happy to help you out and explain his wares to you. Just remember, the next time someone tells you they are craving pizza, bring them here! You won’t regret it.