The family behind beloved neighborhood spot Sami’s Kabab House is expanding its presence 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 version of New York coffee. Premieres at 25-35 36th Avenue, on the corner of 28th Street, for coffee June 17, with a full food menu to follow on June 20.
Little Flower joins the already vibrant halal restaurant scene in western Astoria, serving two main Muslim enclaves: Little Bangladesh, at the southern tip along 36th Avenue, and Little Egypt, which has evolved to include Moroccans, Algerians and Yemenis along the stretch. two blocks from Steinway Street to the north. Menus in both neighborhoods draw on traditional dishes from their respective cultures, but recently, Astoria-based Muslim restaurant owners have been shaking 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 debuted burrito bowls and quesadillas stuffed with halal steak.
Zamans hope to offer more modern and creative halal options. Indulge in the seemingly humble soft scrambled egg sandwich topped with mashed onions, cheddar cheese, scallions and lamb bacon sliced so thin it curls like ham inside a milk bun. It’s Little Flower’s take on the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich that puts a spin on an iconic New York food while also presenting a halal option for the Muslim community.
Catching that wave was a big deal for co-owner Ali Zaman, who spent years helping out at his father’s Sami’s Kabab House, where he did everything from working the tables to running the restaurant himself. He remembers coveting the bacon he’d watched his friends eat – although he admits his diet is not exclusively, but primarily, halal.
Zaman’s initial tasting of the lamb belly — a joint effort with Christian Ortiz, chef at the upscale Mexican restaurant Yuco in Greenwich Village — was unsatisfactory. “The problem is that the belly of the lamb is very small, so you don’t end up with long strips like pork or beef bacon,” he explains. “It tasted like jerky, very overpowering.” Experimenting with different cuts finally resulted in something different: a delicate, salty, lamb-belly thin layer with the brick-red umami of bacon, further embellished with the texture of ham.
“Now I can expose Muslims to this,” says Zaman. His mission for Little Flower is to present a new destination for Muslims – one that takes a modern approach to blending halal and Afghan elements with cafe classics and emphasizes sourcing high-quality ingredients.
The egg sandwich isn’t the only menu item that sparks the pride that Zaman displays as a loving father. There’s also Little Flower’s interpretation of the Boston cream donut: it’s stuffed with firnee, the traditional Afghan dessert of cardamom-flavored cream and rose water from her father’s restaurant, and crusted with a crunchy burnt sugar. up.
He also brings his intentional care to coffee, sourcing his beans from the critically acclaimed Sey Coffee micro roaster in Brooklyn. For a dose of familiarity, he offers simple syrups in the cardamom and rose flavors common in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines.
Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, so Zaman obtains non-alcoholic kombucha from Brooklyn-based Unified Ferments. Their lauded beers are brewed with sophisticated single-origin teas such as snow chrysanthemum and green jasmine, and both kombuchas will be served at Little Flower in wine glasses. Zaman aims to replicate the wine drinkers’ ceremonial ritual — the amusing swirl of the glass and the insightful conversation of flavor profiles — for non-drinking Muslims.
The interior of the 15-seat cafe also reflects the same attention to menu detail. Kakishibu – a fermented persimmon dye from Japan – has been brushed over the ceiling, walls and floor for a light amber look that will slowly darken over time.
“We can have good things too,” says Zaman, who has known many of the regulars at his father’s restaurant since it opened in 2017. From decor to halal ham to kombucha rituals, Little Flower presents new facets to savor: them to my people, blue-collar Muslim American workers,” he says. “I want to give back to them.”