I’m asked nearly every day, “Why did you start The Hungry Dudes?” My answer is always the same, “Passion.” However, that passion had to arise from something. I was lucky growing up – my mom and both of grandmothers could cook very well. Emily, grandma on my dad’s side, cooked so well that 40 years ago her and her husband decided to open a deli.
Emily’s Deli in Saint Clair Shores is the starting point of my culinary interest. Ever since I was 4 years old, I’ve been eating traditional ethnic foods like hummus, tabbouleh, fatayer (meat pies), baklava, and (of course) kibbeh nayyeh. Hummus and tabbouleh are fairly commonplace these days. From Middle Eastern restaurants to sports bar to fine dining seems like hummus pops up on menus when you’d least expect it.
Kibbeh, however, does not. Kibbeh is ground lamb mixed with bulghur wheat and spices. Though it can be served baked, fried, boiled, or grilled, my preparation of choice is nayyeh (raw). Essentially Middle Eastern steak tartare, kibbeh nayyeh is topped with olive oil and onion and served with pita bread. For me, though, my perfect plate of kibbeh also has fresh jalapeno and a sprinkling of feta cheese (not traditional, I know, but oh so delicious).
My brother Sam Jr. makes the kibbeh nayyeh by hand using the recipe handed down by Emily, our Sito (grandmother). I eat kibbeh at least once every two weeks. It is my ultimate comfort food.
I have fond memories from my childhood of riding my bike to Emily’s on a hot summer day and fixing a big plate of kibbeh nayyeh to fuel myself for the rest of the day. Back then, Sam Jr. wasn’t making the kibbeh, Emily was. In fact, Emily still cooks at the deli. If you visit Tuesday through Saturday around lunch, she will be there making meat pies, cookies, and grape leaves. You’d also meet my father, who is unforgettable even after one visit.
Emily’s is carry out only, but if you catch my dad and brother on a good day, you’ll end up hanging out for a while anyway.