This is not marijuana: it’s za’atar (and great pizza in Austin, yes, in Austin!)

Above: This is not marijuana. It’s za’atar, a traditional Arabic spice mixture, not only delicious but with magical — miraculous, I might say — properties.

Tracie P likes to tease me: “I can’t take you anywhere,” she laments with a grin on her face, without me striking up conversation with the sommelier, chef, or in this case, the pizzaiolo.

To celebrate our wedding, my friend and client Julio Hernández and his lovely wife Lauren took me and Tracie P out to try a new Italian restaurant and pizzeria on Congress Ave., Quattro Gatti. After taking a bite of my pizza (which was delicious, see below), I couldn’t help compliment the pizzaiolo, whose wood-burning oven was an earshot from our table.

In what was a true una faccia, una razza (one face, one race) moment, he beckoned me over and offered me a taste of his za’atar. The traditional Arabic spice mixture, he said, should be sprinkled over toasted bread that has been drizzled with olive oil. Not only is it delicious, he noted, but it also helps to stimulate the digestion. How can I say this? Let’s just say it helps with your daily “miracle.”

Above: Arabs sprinkle za’atar over a pizza crust or over toasted bread. Being an Ashkenazi Jew, I sprinkled mine this morning over cream cheese spread on my toasted bagel.

Pizzaiolo Melad, an Iraqi raised in Syria, was too kind: he sent me home with a baggie (I can’t resist the term) of za’atar for me and Tracie P to enjoy with breakfast. And I’m here to tell you folks, it works! ;-)

The other good news is that the pizza at Quattro Gatti is fantastic.

Above: We’ll definitely be returning to the newly opened Quattro Gatti for the pizza (that’s the Quattro Stagioni, above). Located smack-dad in the middle of downtown Austin, this place is sure to be one of the hottest tables during the upcoming SXSW music festival. The wine list was more-than fairly priced.

Owner Gianfranco Mastrangelo hails from Campania via Manhattan and he knows his pizza. We loved it: the crust was savory, firm to the bite on the outside, and slightly moist and chewy toward the center of the pie (and his house-baked bread was excellent, as well).

A Neapolitan, an Arab, and a Jew walk into a pizzeria… and the Jew leaves with the za’atar…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend, ya’ll!

10 thoughts on “This is not marijuana: it’s za’atar (and great pizza in Austin, yes, in Austin!)

  1. Ha! At almost the same time I had a similar epiphany at a little place here in Big D- called Farntachi. Chef-owner Yaser Khalaf (from Kuwait) makes an irresistible Turkish meat pie called laham-majoon. One of his secret ingredients? cardamom.

    An Italian and a Texan walk into a pizzeria in Dallas, and the Italian takes a bottle of Brunello.
    Una faccia, una razza indeed!

    Can’t wait for an Italian and a Jew to walk into that pizzeria in Austin; hope it’s soon!

  2. @Ace the thank you note is in the mail! I swear! ;-)

    Seriously, I cannot tell you how much we LOVE our new dishware… It is so fun playing house with Mrs. Tracie P!

    I liked the pizza at that place you took me in Dallas: the pizzaiolo at Quattro Gatti is lobbying the owner to let him do an “Arabic” pizza, as he called. We’ll go there next week… :-)

    @Tracie P I’ll joke about most about anything but I do not tolerate bathroom humor on my blog! ;-)

    This is our first Saturday of tandem blogging in our new home… it makes me so unbelievably happy!

  3. I’ve just published the Manakish Zaatar on my blog but there I made my zaatar with fresh herbs instead of dry ones… tasty, spicy, delicious… ;)


  4. Oh man how I do love myself some Zaatar… that first picture just has me salivating. Get yourself a good quality olive oil and drizzle just a little on top… amazing!

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