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Merguez and Frites
Algerian food in NYC is hard to find. But, on one afternoon strolling through the Little Egypt neighborhood in Astoria, I spotted a sign for “Merguez and Frites.” Being a big fan of merguez, the juicy well-spiced lamb sausage common in North Africa, I was immediately intrigued.
On the menu, the cuisine here is described as Maghrebian, representing the Maghreb Region of North Africa. The Maghreb region includes Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and Algeria.
On the first visit, one item immediately jumped out. There was a pan of what looked like bakery style pizza, freshly baked. After asking the friendly owner, I learned that it was an Algerian style pizza. In fact, the owner and his family are Algerian. Fittingly, Queens would be the location for the only Algerian restaurant in New York City.
As for the pizza, it is a flat and light dough covered in housemade tomato sauce and herbs along with a black olive. After baking, the pizza is topped with fresh parsley. While waiting for my slice to be reheated, I did a quick Google search for Algerian pizza and noticed a few recipe videos on YouTube, but not too much information.
As a big fan of New Haven style tomato pies, this style of pizza was a must-try. Before serving, the square slice is drizzled with olive oil. Immediately, it reminded me of a bakery style tomato slice. The dough is thin but slightly pillowy and light. It has a wonderful fresh kick from the parsley to balance out the zesty tomato sauce. But, the black olive added a really nice flavor, as it wasn’t overly briny and had a little char from time in the oven. The back of the crust that is against the pan has a slight char.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without trying their namesake merguez, which I ordered on a sandwich. Naturally, this is where the frites come into play. Four pieces of grilled merguez sausage are accompanied by fries on a crisp baguette, which also is smeared with harissa sauce for a kick. This merguez was grilled perfectly, full of flavor and juicy. On a future visit, I would try it in a mixed grill platter with some of their other meats.
The next time I visited Merguez and Frites, I spotted another tray with a creamy looking baked good. It turns out that it is karantita, a baked casserole ground chickpeas baked with egg, cumin and extra virgin olive oil. As a cumin fanatic, hearing that spice was the “bat signal” for me. Even better is that after the slice is heated in the oven, it is dusted with cumin powder and then topped with Harissa for a kick. The karantita itself is creamy and light, pairing quite nicely with the fragrant cumin and spicy Harissa. It is an excellent vegetarian option here and something we could eat frequently with all of that cumin!
Finally, one more menu item stood out. This was the lamb liver sandwich, which is actually served with veal liver. It is sautéed in a pan with olive oil, garlic and herbs. Inside the baguette, there are fries, much like the merguez sandwich. The liver here has the right level of offal flavor without overwhelming. For liver lovers, this is a must-try.
One of the best parts about living in New York is the diversity and finding places like Merguez and Frites. It is an excellent introduction to Algerian food in NYC, and it has piqued my curiosity to research more about the cuisine. Not only is the food flavorful, but it feels light, a testament to the owner’s commitment to fresh ingredients.
Have you tried Algerian food before? If so, what are your favorite dishes? Which of these dishes from Merguez and Frites would you most like to try? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Merguez and Frites can be found on our Queens food maps page in the Astoria and Long Island City map.
Merguez and Frites
40-06 25th Ave
Astoria, NY 11103