Simply ask Ronnie, Danny and Johnny Dubbaneh, the brothers behind Z&Z. Considered one of their most vivid childhood recollections includes their father, Issa, sitting on the breakfast desk contained in the household residence in Rockville, following his regular morning ritual. He would take a chunk of bread, maybe made contemporary by his spouse, Muna, and dunk it in olive oil, ending it with a dredge in za’atar aromatic with wild thyme and sumac. This chew — heat, natural and citrusy, evoking lands removed from suburban Maryland — would awaken the senses like no cup of espresso ever may.
The flavors that Issa craved each morning are the identical ones discovered on za’atar manoushe, the basic Levantine flatbread topped with olive oil and a beneficiant dusting of the namesake spice mix. Za’atar manoushe simply occurs to be the signature dish at Z&Z, a store influenced by the Dubbaneh household’s elders but one they by no means may have opened themselves. The D.C. market simply wasn’t prepared for it of their time.
You see, Ronnie, Danny and Johnny come from a household with a protracted historical past within the restaurant enterprise. Their father’s aspect of the household got here from the Palestinian territories, their mom’s from Jordan. They had been immigrants who knew the challenges and limitations of making an attempt to promote meals to diners within the Washington space. Immigrants who needed higher lives for his or her youngsters and inspired them to pursue careers during which their garments wouldn’t odor of fryer oil on the finish of the day. Immigrants who realized that, in the long run, that they had little management over the passions of their sons.
Meals “was simply the place our hearts had been,” Danny instructed me one afternoon throughout a cellphone name.
However Ronnie, Danny and Johnny additionally had time on their aspect. Not like their father and maternal grandfather — males who owned carryouts specializing in fried hen, burgers and subs — Ronnie, 36, Danny, 34, and Johnny, 29, got here of age at a time when the American palate is open to suggestion and chance.
Danny and Johnny, the brothers liable for day-to-day operations, jumped on the alternative to dedicate their lives to manoushe, in ways in which earlier generations may by no means have fathomed: They stop white-collar jobs to chase after the proper flatbread. They experimented for weeks, which became years, on dough recipes. They scoured the Center East for herbs and spices, which they’ve mixed right into a customized za’atar mix. They sampled numerous olive oils till they landed on a buttery Tunisian model that aligns effectively with their explicit za’atar.
Their efforts — at researching Levantine foodways after which pushing ever so gently towards their boundaries — have culminated in a flatbread that borrows from avenue meals traditions with out being subservient to them. The brothers have created a dough that, by their very own admission, is probably puffier and extra developed than the foldable rounds discovered on the streets of Lebanon and elsewhere. It’s like manoushe as run by way of the paces at an artisan pizzeria, and it makes for an outstanding base it doesn’t matter what toppings you order.
The place to begin at Z&Z is with the za’atar manoushe, appropriately dubbed the “basic.” It’s a flatbread carpeted with za’atar, which can concurrently tantalize and confound your palate. Z&Z’s spice mix form of smacks of oregano, however not simply oregano. It’s form of tastes like thyme, however not unadulterated thyme. But no matter herb you detect — or assume you detect — it is going to be reduce and complemented with the toasty crackle of sesame seeds and the metallic tang of sumac. The spice combination makes for a dish like no different.
Consuming a complete za’atar manoushe also can result in palate fatigue, which is partly why I discover myself leaning towards different flatbreads at Z&Z. Generally I go for variations on the theme, just like the delightfully named Toum Raider, which is principally the basic manoushe accessorized with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, contemporary herbs, and parallel traces of toum, the emulsified garlic sauce that vaporizes into pungent cumulus clouds upon first chew.
I’ve eaten my manner by way of the manoushe menu, and I’ve observed one thing fascinating: The bottom for the vegetarian flatbreads tends to be softer and chewier than the one for a meat- or cheese-based manoushe, which tends to be extra crackerlike. I requested the brothers about this, they usually had a easy rationalization: The veg-centric manakish (the plural of manoushe) begin and end on the saj, the dome-shaped griddle that radiates warmth from the underside solely. In contrast, the flatbread for a meat or cheese possibility is heated on the saj earlier than its toppings are added; then the totally loaded manoushe is completed in a convection oven to make sure all the things is correctly cooked. In my expertise, the latter method results in a drier, crispier crust.
To be trustworthy, I desire the softer manoushe, which retains extra of the earthy, whole-wheat sweetness of the brothers’ dough. However, I need to admit, it’s a desire with out conviction, as a result of I’ll gladly wolf down a complete hen shawarma manoushe, its star ingredient combating for consideration with the brined Arab pickles, pickled turnips and toum, every a power of its personal. I additionally am a fan of the new halaby honey manoushe, one thing of a trend-monger among the many flatbreads, with its syrupy software of wildflower honey to stability out the Aleppo pepper and sujuk sausage.
Z&Z Manoushe Bakery might have a small footprint, but it surely has an expansive attain. Its merchandise — Z&Z-branded za’atar, sumac and sea salt — might be purchased online, whereas its line of frozen manoushe is available at Complete Meals and different shops within the D.C. space. The brothers have constructed a household enterprise that brings alongside everybody within the clan. Their enterprise depends on the help of sisters DeAnna and Ronia, cousin Michael and even the dad and mom. Their storefront has family history, too. It was the placement of their grandfather’s store, Hen Tonight, which Fayez Khawaja and his son ran for greater than twenty years.
The increasing Z&Z empire has its advantages, particularly for a store open solely 4 days per week. On these afternoons when you will have a hankering, you don’t have to attend for Z&Z to swing open its door. You may warmth up a frozen manoushe, which can not evaluate to 1 contemporary off the saj, but it surely does a reasonably imply impersonation.
Even higher, the frozen line features a “cocktail” manoushe, a half-za’atar and half-cheese flatbread that’s out there solely as a special-order merchandise on the retailer. The trick is to fold the cocktail in half earlier than devouring it. The cheese and za’atar meld into one, surrounded on two sides by flatbread. It’s like a Levantine quesadilla, however to the uninitiated, it’s extra like discovering a brand new greatest pal.
1111 Nelson St., Rockville, Md., 301-296-4178; zandzdc.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to eight p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to eight p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday by way of Wednesday.
Nearest Metro: Rockville, with a couple of 1.5-mile journey to the bakery.
Costs: $1 to $25 for all the things on the menu or available in the market.