24-39 Steinway Street (25th Avenue)
SANDWICH MERGUEZ AU HARISSA
Magid Atif has worked almost every job in the restaurant business, starting as a busboy at the Purity diner in Brooklyn when he arrived from Casablanca in 1985.
“Finally, I decided to go to cooking school, and I wanted to go to Paris but my funds would only allow me to go to Pittsburgh,” he said last week in Little Morocco, the breezy cafe in Astoria, Queens, where he is now an owner and chef. Steinway Street south of the Grand Central Parkway is lined with hookah cafes, halal butchers, Middle Eastern bakeries and North African restaurants; a mosque across the street provides a steady stream of customers.
Mr. Atif’s time at the Cordon Bleu served him well, but eventually his cooking circled back to the spicy, paprika-reddened merguez sausages he said he learned to make from the Jewish butchers of Casablanca. The merguez are made daily at the cafe, cooked to order and stuffed into crusty, grilled “petit pain” — “little bread” in Casablanca, a k a Italian rolls in Queens — with cubes of cucumber and tomato, chopped green olives and a hot-pink, spicy, garlicky harissa, also made in-house. “I mastered it through many kitchens,” he said. Wine vinegar and extra oil emulsify Mr. Atif’s harissa into a tangy sandwich spread that takes a bow toward mayonnaise.
April 30, 2008