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    Restaurant Reviews
    Friday, May 24, 2024

    A charming visit to Lazizah

    Sauteed Cauliflower Wrap (Eileen Jenkins)
    Lazizah Bakery in Yantic (Rick Koster/The Day)
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    Turkey on Focaccia Sandwich at Lazizah (Rick Koster/The Day)
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    As a Codger-in-Progress, I’m very attuned to myriad inventions, medications and programs designed to keep me upright and not making too much of a (bigger) fool of myself.

    What I haven’t encountered yet is an anticipatory device that can somehow recognize my brain wave algorithms and give me a secret warning that I’m about to barge (yet again) into one of the quaint old-guy anecdotes people around me have already heard numerous times.

    I recognized the need for such a tool recently after two colleagues described summer travel plans for, respectively, Portugal and Edinburgh. Each time, I quipped about OUR circumstances being so dire that we’d be vacationing in Yantic. (Slap knee and guffaw!)

    In addition to the limited repertoire and a frankly not-very-amusing joke, I realized that, to my knowledge, I’d never been to Yantic. For all I knew, Yantic is an Edenic paradise. I can’t trust myself to not recycle that same idiotic joke, but I vowed to change the fake vacation destination to Moosup, which I HAVE visited and which, ah … well, it ain’t Portugal or Edinburgh.

    For that matter, it isn’t even Yantic — which last weekend my wife Eileen and I drove through twice to see what it’s like.

    Our first impression was that — borrowing an expression from my Texas childhood that describes some place that’s not convenient to find — “you gotta wanna get there.”

    How do you find it?

    In a tiny and hidden corner of northwest Norwich, tucked underneath the confluence of Routes 32 and 2, in a leafy spot hard to a gurgling river, and featuring an old fire station, a Headless Horseman-era bridge, a desolate and empty mill and a stone church looming without judgment on a hill, Yantic sort of looks like Brigadoon if Lerner and Loewe forgot to include the part about the village coming to life once every century.

    As far as the town’s commerce is concerned, what we discovered was, perhaps oddly, a Mediterranean place called Lazizah Bakery. It’s a small standalone building of stone and weathered planks and landscaped flowers — very rustic and, well, Yantic-y. Though the bakery is take-out only, the exterior has a front patio extending around to a side yard/garden with wrought iron tables and chairs for dining.

    On opening the door, the visitor is suffused with a strong and alluring amalgam of exotic scents. And behold the glass display counters: all manners of cookies, cupcakes, breads, pies, muffins, croissants and cakes. And there’s also a wall lunch menu loaded with options like falafel, gyros, roll-ups, hummus, baba ghannuj, soups, salads, sandwiches and more. In addition, the place is also a market offering plenty of imported olives, spices, yogurt, sauces and prepackage treats.

    ‘Retirement’ = labor of love

    Iffat and Bassem Salahi, a Lebanese couple, opened Lazizah 20 years ago and the place seems to serve as a joyful sort of working retirement. Bassem, de facto front of the house, said he was employed for three decades at EB and Iffat, who’s in charge of the kitchen and uses old family recipes as well as concoctions, had a career as a chemist – which probably explains why everything on the menu is made from scratch.

    “‘Lazizah’ means delicious in Arabic,” Bassem said. “And we do this because we like being around people and preparing food they’ll enjoy.”

    Oh, we definitely enjoyed it. To undertake a full dive into the Lazizah menu would take some time. But here are a few of the items we sampled.

    ∎ Beef Shawarma Gyro ($8.75) — A giant pita, thickly crafted to provide support for the goodness within, was wrapped around long, thin strips of tangibly marinated beef. Sharp pickles, very crisp romaine lettuce and chunks of tomato sang harmony. (The recipe called for onion but I asked that it be left off. Bassem said, with the playful concern of a favorite uncle, “Your choice, but onion is good for the blood! We’re not getting any younger!”)

    ∎ Turkey Sandwich on Focaccia Bread ($7.50) — I loved this. A freshly baked and crispy roll was stuffed with thickly carved slabs of roasted turkey breast, wings of crunchy romaine lettuce, shredded bits of biting parmesan cheese and slathered with a magical spread involving cranberry, apple, ground almond and mayo. If it’s true that the idea of a “turkey sandwich” is a tired construct, well, wake up!

    ∎ Falafel Wrap ($7.99) — Perfectly balanced: a crispy pita exterior protected a creamy interior of fried chickpeas, onions, garlic and herbs. These were augmented by lettuce, tomatoes, scallions and pickled turnip — all lightly coated with a pleasantly teasing tahini sauce.

    ∎ Sauteéd Cauliflower Wrap ($6.50) — The cauliflower and pita both had a great char, which added taste and texture. Too, the addition of lemon, hummus and garlic/cilantro dressing was an earthy delight that, hitting the tongue, somehow splashed in both mellow and bold fashion.

    ∎ Spinach Pie ($4.50) — A piquant mix of spinach, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs and spices in a tidy triangle of pita. A great (and healthy) snack — or you could add to a Laziza salad or soup for a meal. (Note: There are two soups made daily and one is always vegetarian.)

    ∎ Honey Cinnamon Square ($1.50) — The “sweets” possibilities at Lazizah will be subject for another time, but this little wonder, with its flaky layers coated with cinnamon and glued together by honey, was a joy for the ages.

    Given the distance from our New London home to Yantic, will we travel back to Yantic and revisit Lazizah? I like to think so — assuming the Brigadoons remember to set the alarm clock.

    Lazizah Bakery

    125 Yantic Road, Yantic

    (860) 889-2542. lazizah.net

    Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.

    Cuisine: Take-out Mediterranean bakery and lunches

    Atmosphere: Quaint, pleasantly aromatic with an adjacent garden

    Service: Eager to please and with plenty of folksy banter

    Prices: Very reasonable

    Reservations: By all means, call ahead for larger orders.

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessibility: It’s a small place with a tight corner on entering.

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