Life happily involves continuous bar raising. My 2008 visit to Al Sanabel Bakery consisted of eye-opening exposure to over 20 different Lebanese flatbreads. However, more doesn’t always mean better, as evidenced by my initial visit to nearby Forn Al Hara. The name roughly translates as neighborhood bakery, with “forn” meaning bakery in Arabic, but owner Mo Alam’s cafe holds appeal that should extend beyond Little Arabia’s Brookhurst Plaza.
Alam is a Tripoli native who has filled his six-table space with plenty of eye candy, particularly the counters and display cases, which are lined and packed with pastries.
Roy Herwick’s murals of Lebanon consist of a couple enjoying a hookah, a baker sliding a flatbread into a stone oven, a town square with a man carrying a tray of flatbreads on his head and a donkey hauling a wagon of fruit
A wall-mounted flatbread menu to the right of the register lists more options than any single table can possibly accommodate. Lebanese baker Ali Farhat worked at Al Sanabel for over eight years before sliding down Brookhurst Street.
Farhat makes 19 different flatbreads, with variations on certain varieties. For example, you can get a cheese flatbread topped with chicken, spinach, soujouk or eggs; zatar flatbread is available with labni, cheese or vegetables; and the spifa (ground beef flatbread) is available three ways.
Kishk ($2.75) is topped with a mix of yogurt powder, olive oil and paprika, which is reconstituted as powdery paste on bubbly bread. Even with toppings of diced tomato and uncooked onion, the kishk is an acquired taste. Yes, that’s a euphemism. Fortunately, Forn Al Hara only got better.
It was interesting how the texture of Forn Al Hara’s flatbreads varied. For example, the Zatar with Labni ($2) was a fluffy flatbread lined with zatar – oregano, thyme, sumac and sesame seeds – and topped with tangy labni, Middle Eastern cream cheese. At Forn Al Hara, eat it rolled up with butcher paper bundled at the bottom, so the labni doesn’t spill out.
Forn Al Hara is a corner gem that won’t make me completely forget about Al Sanabel Bakery. However, it’s hard to imagine another trip to Little Arabia without stopping by for at least a couple nibbles.