NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mohammed Almandalawi learned to cook watching YouTube videos.
He’s bringing his skills to Iraqi House, the restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He’s not just the owner, but also the chef, manager, and server.
“When I have a chance, I clean the dishes,” he said.
MORE FROM THE DIG: Albanian Flavors Abound At Dua Kafe
A former swimming coach, Almandalawi decided to open a restaurant for his native cuisine when he saw the opportunity.
“I love cooking, and I didn’t see any Iraqi restaurant here in New York,” he said.
On the menu, you’ll find baba ghanoush, hummus, and lamb skewers, in addition to Iraqi specialties like makhlama—eggs scrambled with onions and spiced lamb, served over fluffy basmati rice scented with cinnamon and bay leaf.
Cardamom, curry, onions, and garlic play a major role on his menu.
“Food without spices is without any taste,” he said.
MORE FROM THE DIG: A Team Of Polish Women Make Pierogi Like Back Home At Pierozek
His typical workday can stretch to fourteen hours long. Thankfully, he gets help on weekend mornings from his wife Manar, who is otherwise home caring for the couple’s newborn twin boys.
“No sleep at all, even at night,” she said.
She helps to stuff vegetables and grape leaves with rice and ground lamb, a three-hour process, for a hearty dish called dolma.
“The dolma, before, we served it only weekends. But now, everyone asks for it,” she said.
It has become a daily offering.
Mohammed says that there aren’t enough Iraqi natives in Bay Ridge to sustain his restaurant—he depends on local customers, many of whom arrive as first-timers to Iraqi cuisine.
For Manar, the Iraqi menu is easy to love.
“It’s cozy,” she said.
7215 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
What’s something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.