Astoria Coffee Shop Little Flower Cafe opens with modern halal food

The family behind beloved neighborhood spot Sami’s Kabab House extends its footprint on the same block in Astoria. Moving away from the traditional Afghan dishes the Zaman family is known for, owner Ali Zaman opens Little Flower Cafe, a modern halal take on the New York cafe. It debuts at 25-35 36th Avenue, corner 28th Street, for a coffee shop on June 17, with a full menu to follow on June 20.

Little Flower joins an already vibrant halal restaurant scene in West Astoria serving two major Muslim enclaves: Little Bangladesh at the southern tip along 36th Avenue and Little Egypt, which has grown to include Moroccans, Algerians and of Yemenis on the two-block stretch on Steinway Street to the north. Both neighborhoods’ menus rely heavily on traditional dishes from their respective cultures, but recently, Astoria-based Muslim restaurateurs have shaken things up. Bangladeshi-owned Eatzy Thai opened in 2020 with halal versions of Thai dishes like pad kee mao and tom kha. A year later, fast-casual Mexican spot Hot Peppers launched plump burrito bowls and quesadillas with halal steak.

The Zamans hope to offer more modern and creative halal options. Enter their seemingly humble scrambled egg sandwich topped with mashed onions, cheddar cheese, chives and lamb bacon sliced ​​so thinly it wraps like prosciutto in a bun. It’s Little Flower’s take on the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich that revisits an iconic New York food while introducing a halal option for the Muslim community.

Reaching this loop was a big deal for co-owner Ali Zaman, who spent years helping his father’s eponymous Sami’s Kabab house, where he did everything from bus tables to running the solo restaurant. He remembers coveting the bacon he watched his friends eat – although he admits his diet is not exclusively, but still primarily, halal.

Zaman’s first tasting of the lamb breast — a joint effort with Christian Ortiz, the chef of upscale Mexican restaurant Yuco in Greenwich Village — was unsatisfactory. “The problem is that lamb breast is really small, so you don’t get long strips like in pork or beef bacon,” he explains. “It tasted jerky, too overwhelming.” Experimenting with different cuts ultimately yielded something different: a delicate, salty thin layer of lamb belly with the brick-red umami of bacon, enhanced with more of the texture of prosciutto.

Strawberry danish.
Caroline Shin / Eater NY

“Now I can expose Muslims to this,” Zaman says. Her mission for Little Flower is to introduce a new destination for Muslims – a modern approach that blends Halal and Afghan elements with cafe classics and an emphasis on sourcing high quality ingredients.

The egg sandwich isn’t the only proud menu item that Zaman shows as a doting parent. There’s also Little Flower’s take on the Boston cream donut: it’s stuffed with firnee, the traditional Afghan dessert with cardamom and rosewater from her father’s restaurant, and encrusted with a sugar burnt crisp on top.

He also puts his intentional care into his coffee, sourcing the beans from critically acclaimed micro-roaster Sey Coffee in Brooklyn. For a touch of familiarity, it offers simple syrups in cardamom and rose flavors, common in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines.

Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, which is why Zaman sources its non-alcoholic kombucha from Brooklyn-based Unified Ferments. Their acclaimed brews rely on premium single-origin teas like Snow Chrysanthemum and Jasmine Green, and both kombuchas will be served at Little Flower in wine glasses. Zaman aims to replicate the ceremonial ritual of wine drinkers – the amusing swirl of the glass and the insightful talk of flavor profiles – for non-drinking Muslims.

The interior of the 15-seat cafe also reflects the same attention to detail on the menu. Kakishibu – a fermented persimmon dye from Japan – has been brushed onto the ceiling, walls and floor for a light amber look that will slowly darken over time.

“We can also have beautiful things,” says Zaman, who has gotten to know many regular customers of his father’s restaurant since it opened in 2017. From decor to halal prosciutto to kombucha rituals, Little Flower features new facets to savor: “I want to expose them to my people, the hard-working Muslim American blue-collar workers,” he says. “I want to give back to them.”