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Chris Francke has wanted to serve breakfast food at his Middle Eastern cocktail bar since it opened in Adams Morgan in 2018. He talks longingly about the restaurants in Lebanon dedicated to dishes that are all permutations of chickpeas, fava beans, and eggs. He’s half Iraqi, but has family in Beirut and visits often. Late last month, Francke finally launched a weekend brunch menu filled with his “favorite things ever.” Chef Younes El Mahi leads the bar’s kitchen.
Start your tour with spreads like super smooth hummus and za’tar-spiced labneh and a round of pomegranate mimosas if you’re imbibing or Iraqi tea if you’re in need of a jolt. “This is what you’ll get in Iraq, whether you’re in Iraqi restaurants or people’s homes,” Francke says, describing the Ceylon black tea. “Normally it’s super strong and super sweet. I call it ‘the espresso of tea.’ It brews for hours.”
Then move on to three filling mains. When the chickpea fatteh hits the table, it looks a little like an Indian chaat or Mexican chilaquiles. Fatteh, Francke explains, refers to any dish centering stale, toasted, or crisped bread pieces. Fattoush, a popular salad topped with bread crisps, comes from the same root word.
At The Green Zone, El Mahi and his team top triangles of fried za’tar pita chips with chickpeas, a swirl of yogurt and tahina sauce, paprika, parsley, cumin, and Mediterranean pine nuts toasted in clarified butter. It’s as much fun to eat as nachos, especially if you add spiced chicken for an extra charge.
The foul mdammis also contains various layers of textures and flavors and belongs in the win column for vegetarians. “Foul is a dish that most likely started in Egypt, but spread through the Arab world and down into the horn of Africa,” Francke explains. “The way we do it is pretty classic Lebanese. We don’t mash the beans into a paste. They still have some structure.” Other cultures and cuisines use a different spelling, too. You can order “ful” at Keren, an Eritrean restaurant a few blocks away.
Bean-based meals can weigh you down, but The Green Zone cuts the mix of fava beans and chickpeas with enough lemon juice that the acidity makes it taste lighter. The foul mdammis also gets its punch of flavor from garlic, salt, olive oil, and cumin. Chopped parsley, tomatoes, and spring onions crown the dish. You can add a soft boiled egg and each order comes with a side tray of pickles and fresh mint to garnish at will.
Sausage-and-egg brunch types should swing for a scramble made with sujuq and kashkawan cheese. Sujuq is a sausage eaten across the Levant and in Turkey and Armenia, according to Francke. He has to buy it at Middle Eastern grocery stores because his food distributor doesn’t yet carry such a specialized product. The air-dried beef sausage is salty and a little spicy. Cooks season the eggs with Aleppo pepper and sumac. It’s served in a small metal crock with a side of flatbread to build what tastes a little like a breakfast taco.
If you want to snack on something sweeter, try the fried halloumi cheese that’s sticky with honey or order the saj mana’ish (sourdough flatbread) brushed with Nutella and halawa (sesame paste, flour, and sugar). The bar serves its sourdough with a number of fillings, but the dessert version has been a secret, off-menu item until now.
Lucky brunchers will arrive while there are a few orders of labor-intensive kahi and geimar remaining. The combo includes a glistening puff pastry treat (kahi) and a small dish of a dairy product (geimar). “This is a hyper traditional Iraqi breakfast dish,” Francke says. “My grandfather who follows my social media from Beirut was like, ‘How the hell did you know about it?’ The answer is that I do lots of homework.”
Geimar (sometimes spelled geymar) is essentially Iraqi clotted cream. “Traditionally it’s made with buffalo milk because there are a lot of buffalos in southern Iraq,” Francke says. He cooks regular grass-fed cow’s milk and heavy cream slowly until the fat comes to the top. Then he refrigerates it before serving it with the pastry sweetened with simple syrup.
This past weekend, The Green Zone could only make seven portions because of the labor and space required. “We’re trying to decide if we can produce enough to put it on the menu and not sell out in the first hour,” Francke says. “We’re offering dishes people have never seen before and they’re completely delicious.”
The Green Zone serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from noon until the last seating at 3 p.m. The kitchen closes from 4 to 5 p.m. to prepare for night service. (Note that The Green Zone will be closed on Feb. 13 for a staff party.) Diners can sit inside or outside in a heated area that’s open on one side and protected from the wind on the other. Reservations are available on RESY.
The Green Zone, 2226 18th St. NW; thegreenzonedc.com