Dr. Laffa went from an obscure bakery in an industrial plaza to a bustling spot for some of the best Middle Eastern food around in a matter of mere months. People now stop by the loading-dock restaurant all day long, pining for some shaksuka, sabih or falafel, wrapped in Dr. Laffa's namesake item.
Yoram Gaby is standing by the open loading dock window, arranging the pickles, tomatoes, and onion in the sandwich counter when a woman in a minivan pulls up to the dock. It would give new meaning to "drive-thru," I'm sure, if only she had ordered a falafel with her foot on the break. But she calls out a question instead.
"Yoram! When do you close?"
"Eh?" he replies, stretching his neck over the ledge.
"You close? When do you close?"
"Ah, later," he calls back. "Seven."
"OK, I'll be back," she says, and drives off the lot.
This sort of informality is characteristic of Dr. Laffa, where many repeat customers are on a first-name basis with owners Yoram Gaby and Sasi Haba. The Israeli pair launched Dr. Laffa less than a year ago and let the buzz spread organically, holding back from doing any formal advertising. The move (or lack of move) seemed to work, so much so that Dr. Laffa is moving across the street later this month, settling in a more restaurant-friendly environment with much more seating.
"What will happen to the mural?" I ask Yoram as he starts preparing me a falafel in a laffa. The wall opposite Dr. Laffa's tabun ovens depict a bespectacled man with magnified eyes, scarfing down a plate of what is presumably laffa. Custom made by a Montreal artist, it adds a great quirky character to the apparent makeshift space.
"It's already there," Yoram replies.
"The same one? Painted again?"
"Yes, the same."
I turn my eyes away from the mural and watch Yoram as he prepares the laffa. The dough is waiting under a wooden slab, and Yoram picks up a sticky blob and begins stretching it with his hands. He then props the dough on a pillow-like pad and strikes it on the inside of the tabun.
"We built this ourselves," Yoram says when I ask him about the ovens. "Sasi did it; here, ask Sasi." And he sends me to the back bakery area to question Sasi about the construction.
"This is all stainless steel," Sasi says, leading me back to the ovens. "The dough is very sticky, and it says on the side."
As for what goes into their famous dough, Sasi looks at me and grins. "This," he says, "I don't even tell me wife."
The laffa is removed from the oven with a pair of metal tongs. My falafel ($6) is filled with fresh tomatoes, onions, pickles, parsley and homemade hummus, wound tight and handed over still piping hot. It's immediately clear why the laffa is preferable to a regular pita ($4.50). Whereas pita (especially pita that has been sitting around for a bit) can be dry and tough, the laffa is soft and chewy with crisp, crunchy pockets toasted dark from the oven. The falafel is easily twice the size of what I'm used to, so I hungrily devour half and save the rest for later. Easily the best meal I've ever had on a loading dock.
Photos by Jesse Milns