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It’s not pizza, but FurnSaj makes the city’s most photogenic flatbread

Mana’ish one of many reasons to try Hillcrest’s new Lebanese restaurant and bakery

The cocktail mana'ish, a Lebanese-style flatbread featuring eight different sets of toppings. Clockwise from the top: olives mix, za'atar spice blend, keshik, kafta, spicy tomatoes, spinach and sumac, soujouk and cheese, parsley and cheese.
The cocktail mana'ish, a Lebanese-style flatbread featuring eight different sets of toppings. Clockwise from the top: olives mix, za'atar spice blend, keshik, kafta, spicy tomatoes, spinach and sumac, soujouk and cheese, parsley and cheese.

You’ll need to be familiar with at least two types of Mediterranean cooking appliances to understand what’s happening at FurnSaj Bakery & Restaurant. A furn may be thought of as similar to a clay pizza oven, while a saj is a convex griddle — it looks more like an upside-down wok, even though it’s also frequently used to cook flatbreads.

Place

FurnSaj Bakery & Restaurant

3888 Fourth Ave., San Diego

So FurnSaj, a ten year old Mediterranean restaurant chain out of suburban Los Angeles, suggests a menu that employs cooking techniques involving both. But after only a moment inside its new Hillcrest location, I could tell there is more going on here, even if only with the collection of rotisseries spinning slowly behind the counter, roasting stacked wheels of chicken, beef, and lamb.

Walking into most Mediterranean restaurants, meats might command most of my attention, and indeed the options include a variety of kebab, shawarma, and gyro options. For sure, I enjoyed my $13 beef shawarma wrap. Simply made, with little more than hummus, tomato, onions, and tahini to go with the shaved beef, it rolled up skinny, but about a foot long inside fresh off the saj flatbread.

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A foot-long beef shawarma wrap, rolled in a fresh saj flatbread

However, I wound up ordering this almost as an afterthought, given the display of baked goods before me. Whereas most baking traditions would have me sampling sugary, fruity, and chocolaty pastries, inside FurnSaj’s glass display case, they go decidedly savory.

There are both beef and vegan (potato or jackfruit) * sambouseks* ($3), which are small meat pies closely related to samosas; and cheese or spinach boreg (sometimes known as fatayer), which are smaller hand pies ($1.50 each). Most distinctive in this format are the Lebanese croquettes called kibbeh. Here, they feature seasoned ground beef and pine nuts, stuffed inside a crust of fried bulgar wheat ($3). Because FurnSaj seems to offer vegan alternatives across the board, there’s also a version made with Impossible faux beef ($3.49). When I tried them side by side, I did manage to tell them apart, but couldn’t decide which I liked better.

Lebanese croquettes, known as kibbeh

The chance to nab kibbeh in Hillcrest proves one of the better reasons to pay a visit to FurnSaj, but top of the list has to be the menu of mana’ish (sometimes called manakish). These flatbreads, baked in that pizza oven-like furn, resemble pizzas, but with a fairly different approach to toppings.

My favorite thing about FurnSaj is that they make it easy to try out most of the topping options in one sitting. Simply order the cocktail mana’ish ($12), to get a small, 8-slice pie, where each slice features toppings distinct form the next.

One slice features the classic Middle Eastern spice blend za’atar, easy to spot due to its potent mixture of green herbs and sesame seeds. There’s an olive mix, featuring five different varieties of diced olive, along with mushrooms and roasted red bell pepper. One slice looks very close to pepperoni pizza, but actually features slices of the beef sausage soujouk (and no tomato sauce under the melted cheese). Others feature spinach with sumac and onion, spicy diced tomatoes with onions, and cheese covered slice made green with diced parsley and onion.

A new counter shop serving Mediterranean baked goods in Hillcrest

I was lukewarm on spinach and sumac in combination, but would order every other slice over again, even a couple that surprised me: the keshik flatbread, topped with dried yogurt mixed with onion and tomato; and the lumpy looking kafta, which spreads out the seasoned, minced beef of kafta kabobs as a flatbread topping.

I want to order most of these as whole mana’ish, but even more so I want to take a freind over to FurnSaj, so we can each order one of these photogenic pies and discuss which slices we like best. It’s one of many reasons FurnSaj is an excellent place to start for anyone curious to try Lebanese cuisine.

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The cocktail mana'ish, a Lebanese-style flatbread featuring eight different sets of toppings. Clockwise from the top: olives mix, za'atar spice blend, keshik, kafta, spicy tomatoes, spinach and sumac, soujouk and cheese, parsley and cheese.
The cocktail mana'ish, a Lebanese-style flatbread featuring eight different sets of toppings. Clockwise from the top: olives mix, za'atar spice blend, keshik, kafta, spicy tomatoes, spinach and sumac, soujouk and cheese, parsley and cheese.

You’ll need to be familiar with at least two types of Mediterranean cooking appliances to understand what’s happening at FurnSaj Bakery & Restaurant. A furn may be thought of as similar to a clay pizza oven, while a saj is a convex griddle — it looks more like an upside-down wok, even though it’s also frequently used to cook flatbreads.

Place

FurnSaj Bakery & Restaurant

3888 Fourth Ave., San Diego

So FurnSaj, a ten year old Mediterranean restaurant chain out of suburban Los Angeles, suggests a menu that employs cooking techniques involving both. But after only a moment inside its new Hillcrest location, I could tell there is more going on here, even if only with the collection of rotisseries spinning slowly behind the counter, roasting stacked wheels of chicken, beef, and lamb.

Walking into most Mediterranean restaurants, meats might command most of my attention, and indeed the options include a variety of kebab, shawarma, and gyro options. For sure, I enjoyed my $13 beef shawarma wrap. Simply made, with little more than hummus, tomato, onions, and tahini to go with the shaved beef, it rolled up skinny, but about a foot long inside fresh off the saj flatbread.

Sponsored
Sponsored
A foot-long beef shawarma wrap, rolled in a fresh saj flatbread

However, I wound up ordering this almost as an afterthought, given the display of baked goods before me. Whereas most baking traditions would have me sampling sugary, fruity, and chocolaty pastries, inside FurnSaj’s glass display case, they go decidedly savory.

There are both beef and vegan (potato or jackfruit) * sambouseks* ($3), which are small meat pies closely related to samosas; and cheese or spinach boreg (sometimes known as fatayer), which are smaller hand pies ($1.50 each). Most distinctive in this format are the Lebanese croquettes called kibbeh. Here, they feature seasoned ground beef and pine nuts, stuffed inside a crust of fried bulgar wheat ($3). Because FurnSaj seems to offer vegan alternatives across the board, there’s also a version made with Impossible faux beef ($3.49). When I tried them side by side, I did manage to tell them apart, but couldn’t decide which I liked better.

Lebanese croquettes, known as kibbeh

The chance to nab kibbeh in Hillcrest proves one of the better reasons to pay a visit to FurnSaj, but top of the list has to be the menu of mana’ish (sometimes called manakish). These flatbreads, baked in that pizza oven-like furn, resemble pizzas, but with a fairly different approach to toppings.

My favorite thing about FurnSaj is that they make it easy to try out most of the topping options in one sitting. Simply order the cocktail mana’ish ($12), to get a small, 8-slice pie, where each slice features toppings distinct form the next.

One slice features the classic Middle Eastern spice blend za’atar, easy to spot due to its potent mixture of green herbs and sesame seeds. There’s an olive mix, featuring five different varieties of diced olive, along with mushrooms and roasted red bell pepper. One slice looks very close to pepperoni pizza, but actually features slices of the beef sausage soujouk (and no tomato sauce under the melted cheese). Others feature spinach with sumac and onion, spicy diced tomatoes with onions, and cheese covered slice made green with diced parsley and onion.

A new counter shop serving Mediterranean baked goods in Hillcrest

I was lukewarm on spinach and sumac in combination, but would order every other slice over again, even a couple that surprised me: the keshik flatbread, topped with dried yogurt mixed with onion and tomato; and the lumpy looking kafta, which spreads out the seasoned, minced beef of kafta kabobs as a flatbread topping.

I want to order most of these as whole mana’ish, but even more so I want to take a freind over to FurnSaj, so we can each order one of these photogenic pies and discuss which slices we like best. It’s one of many reasons FurnSaj is an excellent place to start for anyone curious to try Lebanese cuisine.

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Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

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