In the restaurant world, running and maintaining a successful shop is easier said than done. There is a lot of time, hard work and money involved in making a restaurant run, let alone run well. But Capitol Hill’s newest food venture seems to be primed for a successful run.
Byrek and Baguette is here to show Seattle a new side of Mediterranean food. Operating out of the now-defunct Ginger Lime on 12th Avenue across from Seattle University, Byrek and Baguette is looking to bring some new flavors to the mouths of hungry college students. So as a service to my fellow students, I went there to test it out.
As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted with a friendly smile and a warm welcome from the restaurant’s owner and operator, Nataline Gjekmarkaj. She walked me through the menu, filled with different kind of byreks and various sandwiches, and eventually convinced me to get an apple and walnut byrek with caramel sauce.
But first, I had to ask—what is a byrek?
A byrek is a baked and filled pastry made from a thin, flaky dough known as phyllo. It is a dish traditional to Eastern European countries. According to Gjekmarkaj, it is popular in countries such as Turkey, Israel, Serbia, Greece and Albania.
“Depending on where you go, it will look and be spelled differently,” she said.
For example, the Greek spanakopita is a popular form of byrek that is filled with spinach, feta cheese, onions and eggs. Luckily, the restaurant has a variety of byreks to choose from.
When I took the first bite of byrek, it was immediately apparent to me why they are such a popular dish. The dough was light and crispy, and the sweetness of the apple, caramel and walnut combo worked perfectly with the fluffiness of the pastry. But if you are not in the mood for sweet there are plenty of savory options like a beef, onion and tomato byrek or a potato and red onion byrek.
Along with the byreks, they also offer a variety of sandwiches made on baguettes. A popular choice is the ham, mascarpone and apricot preserve sandwich. There is also a more traditional turkey sandwich with provolone, onion, tomato and pickles. And in addition to the typical array of drink options, they also offer a homemade orange juice that you can see being made from the counter.
As a newcomer to the delicious world of byreks, I had a lot to learn. Luckily, Byrek and Baguette was a friendly and helpful place to do it. For me, walking into Byrek and Baguette was more than just a culinary adventure, it is also a good lesson on Mediterranean food.
When most people hear the words Mediterranean food, they think of dishes like shwarma, kabob, gyros and Greek salad. With her restaurant, though, Gjekmarkaj hopes to bring some of her Albanian roots and culture to Seattle. She noted that there are not many Albanians in Seattle, so it is special for her to bring this aspect to the city.
“There is a different side of Mediterranean food that no one knows about here,” she said. “Most of the Mediterranean food here is Middle Eastern, but we come from Eastern Europe and the food is a little different.”
She wants to bring the flavors of her home country to the people here in Seattle. After creating her own recipes and perfecting them, she hopes people will be open to the new and interesting flavors.
And with one successful location already in Bellevue, Gjekmarkaj is excited to feed a potentially more adventurous Seattle crowd.
“People in Seattle are more curious than they are in Bellevue when it comes to food,” she said.
Opening up across the street from a university also doesn’t hurt—with most byreks reasonably priced at just $4, it’s cheap and accessible for students.
And in a place where mom and pop shops are being replaced with expensive restaurant chains at an alarmingly fast rate, Byrek and Baguette is a refreshing new take on the importance of sharing culture and community through food.