The journey lasted more than a year, but the roving popup Sami and Susu, which launched during early pandemic times and became an instant hit for its picnic-friendly Mediterranean food, has finally found a little corner of the city to call home. It opened a permanent location about two weeks ago at the northern end of Orchard Street with an expanded menu and a outdoor seating situation.
The location couldn’t be more ideal for co-owners Amir Nathan and chef Jordan Anderson, who have deep ties to the neighborhood. Nathan is from Be’er Sheva, Israel, but lived on the Lower East Side for years, and his wife’s great-grandfather ran a butcher shop on Delancey Street in the early 1900s.
In addition, Anderson’s grandmother was born on Rivington Street, so for Sami and Susu to wind up here feels a bit like coming home for them both, especially since much of the menu is inspired by childhood favorites and family traditions.
During a conversation with Gothamist last weekend, Nathan and Anderson spoke about the familial connections to their food. “Our menu represents both of our family’s recipes,” said Nathan. “Like my grandma’s Turkish Rice Pilaf, and her Stuffed Cabbage, and in the winter we’re going to add Jordan’s mom’s brisket to the menu.”
Anderson, who does most of the actual cooking, added, “I grew up an Ashkenzai Jew, and the Mom’s Chicken Soup is a kind of homage to her. But there’s also seasonal stuff on the menu, like the Tabbouleh salad which right now is full of summer corn, but in the fall will feature apples.”
That Summer Corn Tabbouleh is particularly excellent, the chewy grain bolstered by herbs, raw onion, almonds, and tons of sweet, juicy kernels bringing a nice pop to the party. I highly recommend Nathan’s mom’s Stuffed Cabbage as well, which Anderson packs with chunky, funky lamb, then lays atop a mound of oily eggplant caponata and smothers with a pistachio pesto-like sauce.
There’s lots to get excited about in the menu’s sandwich section too, including one of the cafe’s many vegan options, a hefty Cauliflower Pita which makes for a terrific quick meal. Its namesake vegetable is roasted and seasoned with that North African blend ras el hanout, poured over with tahini and zhug, and stuffed into a thick, spongy pocket with fermented red cabbage.
Even better though, and possibly the best sandwich I’ve had all year, is Sami and Susu’s Beef Tongue Baguette, which is overflowing with tender, thinly-sliced meat, studded with whole anchovies, and laden with a thick dill and caper vinaigrette. A rich, almost buttery aioli is spread on the sturdy roll for some bonus umami. It is just an incredible creation.
Other appealing options in the sandwich category include a Chicken Pita with harissa and half-sour pickles, a Tunisan Baguette with tuna and egg, and, available before noon, a BEC Bureka. There’s a hearty Freekah Bowl, a platter of Moroccan Carrots covered in labneh, a Zhug Chicken plate, a slab of Roasted Salmon set upon butter beans… really, it’s an impressive array of complex, built-from-scratch dishes for such a seemingly modest space.
If you don’t want to eat outdoors in the curbside dining room, there are a couple of small tables inside and some stools along a narrow counter. This used to be the New Territories ice cream parlor, and there’s not a lot of room to do anything too fancy indoors. “We were our own general contractors,” said Nathan about the two-month buildout, “and we learned a lot from the experience. Mainly that we need to hire a real GC next time.”
As far as the name goes, Sami and Susu was “a children’s TV show from Israel in the 1960s,” said Nathan. “It was partly in Arabic, and it symbolized a kind of hope for peace and unity. Also, in the 1970s a holocaust survivor in my hometown in Israel used that name for a Romanian steakhouse, and I used to go to it with my grandparents. For our place, we made the characters into an old Jewish couple, which is basically how Jordan and I act right now.”
Sami and Susu is located at 190 Orchard Street, just south of Houston Street, and is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed Mondays (646-559-2856; samiandsusu.com)