It is 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and the line at Bezoria in Midtown stretches down the length of the clear glass counter. Ahead of me, there are men in slacks and pressed shirts discussing real estate, a skateboarder wearing a heavy pair of headphones, and a couple trying to decide between a salad bowl or a burrito.
Well, not a burrito, exactly. Bezoria serves rice bowls, salad bowls, pita sandwiches and a thin flatbread, laffa, wrapped around your choice of rice, hummus, meats, veggies, sauces, and so on. You’d be forgiven for confusing it with a burrito, especially because Bezoria is so reminiscent of a place that would serve them.
Let’s be clear: Bezoria is aiming directly at a concept that can only be described as “Chipotle, but with hummus.”
This isn’t so scandalous. Inspired by the burrito chain’s rapid (and still growing) success, restaurants across the country are trying to be “Chipotle, but with noodles,” “Chipotle, but with kabobs” and “Chipotle, but with sushi.”
Even Chipotle acknowledged the idea by starting a new concept called Pizzeria Locale, which is, you guessed it, “Chipotle, but with pizza.”
Bezoria is distinguished among this group by the degree to which it sticks to the Chipotle model. I think they even buy cardboard bowls from the same place.
The key to all of this actually has more to do with service than food. The Chipotle model is about total and complete customer control of ordering. You can’t just say, “Give me the rice bowl” and pay for your meal. The customer is required to specifically ask for or decline each ingredient in each dish — a little more rice please, no feta cheese, and so on.
This is a fairly radical service concept for most cuisines. Can you imagine standing behind the line cook at your favorite Italian joint and yelling, “More garlic! No anchovies!” as he works the fry pan? I’d rather not. But Bezoria is proving that the Chipotle model fits Mediterranean food just fine.
The counter service means that Bezoria’s dishes can be very different things to different customers. The real estate guys in their pressed slacks can request a double order of chicken shawarma on their rice bowl, a protein bomb they earned for making it to the gym this morning. The skateboarder can have his pita stuffed with deep fried falafel, garlicy hummus, a big splash of creamy tahini. The couple doesn’t have to decide between salad or laffa bread; one can have a virtuous bowl of chopped romaine, the other can have the triple-carb combo of flatbread, rice and hummus.
Customer control poses something of challenge for a restaurant critic. How can I tell you what’s good when I don’t know how you’re going to order it?
I’m more inclined to review the ingredients. More than anything, I like the pillow-soft pita bread served here, which is still strong enough to carry a heavy load of falafel and hummus.
The laffa bread, on the other hand, still needs some work. I like my burrito to be strong enough to stand upright on the table, but not so tough it gives my jaw a workout. The laffas here tend to be chewy and doughy and would probably be better if left to cook on the griddle a while longer.
The salad bowl, which comes loaded with salty cubes of feta and olives, hits just the right size for a light lunch, but I do wish they’d offer something better than the beat-up, too briny olives now being served.
The chicken shawarma, seasoned just enough with classic allspice and pepper, is the best of the meat options. The steak shawarma is fine, but not worth the extra dollar. The chicken kefta, a ground chicken and vegetable patty blend, reminds me of my worst experiences with veggie burgers and should be avoided at all costs. Nothing beats the falafel, though, which is just herby and greasy enough.
When you get to the end of the line, be sure to get some hot sauce and tahini, but know that too much of either quickly can make your order sloppy and soggy. I order both on the side.
Of course, you can’t forget the hummus. That’s the stuff that makes Bezoria distinct. It comes in two styles, both thick and rich with flavor. The original is heavy on the garlic, while the “zesty hummus” has something of a peppery kick without actually being spicy.
As I was standing in line for my rice bowl the other day, I asked the guy behind the counter, “What makes the ‘zesty hummus’ so zesty?”
“Chipotle peppers,” he said.
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