(This is part of an ongoing series that showcases some of the best food and drinks in Central New York that you probably don’t know about. Do you have a hidden gem? Share your favorite by emailing me at [email protected] or texting me at 315-382-1984. I might even buy you lunch. If you want to know my next hidden gem before it’s published, join my text group for subscribers where I’ll announce it a day in advance. That’ll allow you to get there before everyone else.)
Syracuse, N.Y. — Have you ever driven to Delta Sonic and just kept going because the slow-moving four lines that feed into one car wash stretched out into the street? That happened to me recently, and it turned out to be a blessing.
Because my car badly needed a wash and wax, and because I didn’t want to sit in my car for an hour, I headed two blocks west to the Bubble-Up Car Wash on Genesee Street in Fairmount. The sign there says you drive “in dirty and out purdy.” It just so happens that Bubble-Up shares a building with Baghdad, a Middle Eastern restaurant that opened in early January.
Not only did I leave with a ‘purdy’ car, I left with a full stomach.
Baghdad is a one-man operation, and it’s NOT affiliated with the car wash. Firas Hashim is the owner, chef, server, business manager and custodian. His father taught him to cook back home in Iraq. He’s been cooking professionally for 17 years, the past six years in the United States.
Before starting Baghdad, he and his longtime friend and co-worker opened Sumer in Westvale Plaza in 2017. It was the first Iraqi restaurant in the Syracuse area. He sold his half to his friend last year and opened Baghdad.
“Yes, I realize this is a car wash,” he said rolling his eyes as a white Honda Accord popped out to be towel-dried next door. “But I have a loyal group of customers who would come to a car wash or wherever I’m cooking to eat the food I make.”
I’m certainly not a student of fine Middle Eastern cuisine, but I know what I like, and I like this food a lot. Watching Firas prepare the food made me like it even more.
Everything he makes at Baghdad is prepared that day and cooked to order. He grinds his own lamb and chicken for kebabs, he mixes his own falafels, and he creates every sauce and dressing that tops entrées or salads.
His kebabs are simple. They’re just ground lamb or chicken and a few pinches of salt. Firas rolls about a third of a pound of meat in his hands to form an oblong tube. He drives an inch-wide stainless steel skewer through the loaf and kneads the meat with his glove-covered thumbs so it spreads out to about a foot.
He cooks them on a grill over an open flame for about five minutes, turning them once a minute while he puts the rest of the order together.
I ordered lamb kebobs on my first visit, chicken on the second visit and back to lamb during the third. They’re equally good.
Each order contains two kebabs and costs $11.99. They come with fresh hummus drizzled with olive oil and cold vegetables on the side.
TIP: You can have the meat served on a bed of rice or pita bread. Go with the rice. “You could go to any Arabic restaurant here, and you’ll get this kind of rice,” Firas said.
It’s a long-grain rice steamed with spices including a couple cloves and cardamom. The rice made this dish so much more special.
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Falafel ($9.99): I made the mistake of ordering falafels as an appetizer to share with Jacob Pucci, syracuse.com’s food writer. Our meals were more than we could handle in one sitting, and the falafel was simply too much. Good problem to have.
Firas grinds chickpeas for his falafels mix each morning. His have little to no parsley, so the inside is more blond in color than green like so many other falafels you’ll find. He doesn’t overpack them so they’re not as dense.
This platter comes with pita bread, a tub of hummus with a handful of chickpeas on top with olive oil and a mixture of spices. You also get a salad with a homemade oil-and-vinegar-based dressing.
Next time: When I return to Baghdad, I will try one of his salads. A customer had ordered a fattoush salad and Greek salad ($6.99 each). Both were huge and gorgeous.
The fattoush salad was covered in Firas’ toasted pita chips. The last thing he did before bagging the order for the customer was whip up a cold cucumber dressing with Greek yogurt for dipping.
Warning: Firas will be closing his car-wash location within a month or so because he’s moving his restaurant to downtown Syracuse. He’ll be part of the Salt City Market, a market and food hall going up on South Salina Street.
“We’re PUMPED to have Baghdad on board,” said Adam Sudmann, Market manager.
The restaurant: Baghdad Restaurant, 3512 W. Genesee St., Syracuse 315-802-6628
Hours: Noon to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Credit cards? Yes
Access to disabled? Yes
Inside seating: No. Just one table with four chairs outside.
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Charlie Miller finds the best in food, drink and fun across Central New York. Contact him at 315-382-1984, or by email at [email protected].