The numbers are in, and they’re not encouraging. According to Carli Liguori, a registered dietitian and nutrition researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, sales of ice cream jumped up by 36% during the COVID pandemic, and the most common food delivery order was french fries. It comes as no surprise that 61% of Americans report having gained weight.
Which is not to say there haven’t been alternatives, provided you took the time to seek them out. One that we highly recommend is Balade Your Way, which specializes in grilled meats, salads, and rice bowls, all with a Middle Eastern spin: The restaurant is the offspring of the East Village Lebanese veteran Balade. Many of the items you will find on the Balade Your Way menu — hummus, taboule, kebabs — are also staples of the mother ship, only here they cost a fraction of the price.
The items in the appetizer section of the menu are small plates, which are hence best shared. The baba ganouj, as a case in point, will easily appetize two or three people. The eggplant in the dish is smoked, which adds an uncommon robustness that is offset by a hint of fresh lemon. You scoop up the savory dip with triangles of hot pita.
A number of the hot appetizers are in or on pie dough that is fired in a brick oven. Among them is lahm b’ajin, a handsomely charred disc of flatbread the size of a personal pan pizza generously spread with minced beef, tomatoes, onions, and — unexpected note — pomegranate molasses. If you are in the habit of adding a pinch of sugar to your homemade tomato sauce, you’ll understand the method behind their madness.
The “Your Way” theme is sounded most prominently in the main courses. You mix and match to create your own by choosing a base (pita wrap, rice bowl, or salad), one of eight proteins, and any of a host of toppings and sauces. Chicken shawarma married nicely with a foundation of crisp greens, tomatoes, feta cheese, and a dollop of tangy garlic whip. Order the kafta wrap and you are brought face to face with a fragrant chargrilled log fashioned of ground beef, minced onions, and parsley, nestled in a warm wafer-thin pita.
Yes, there are desserts, and, no, they’re not all variations on the baklava theme. Mouhalabie, described as “milk pudding,” is a slightly gelatinous rosewater-scented custard sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It may take some getting used to, but that’s mostly culture shock.
Price range: $4.14 to $6.20 for starters, $8.96 to $10,80 for main courses, and $3.68 for dessert.
Balade Your Way has two locations, one at 144 W. 37th Street, 212-689-7171, the second at 8 E. 41st Street, 212-695-6969. Hours 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.