If you live in Charlotte, odds are you’ve eaten in one of Frank Scibelli’s restaurants. The serial restaurateur created Mama Ricotta’s, Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s Tacos & Tequila, Cantina 1511 and most recently sold Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar for $21 million. His newest venture, Yafo, will be a fast-casual Middle Eastern street food concept opening in SouthPark in early 2016.
Scibelli, who’s known for keeping things casual when it comes to food, says Yafo will have high culinary standards at an approachable price point (expect meals in the $8 to $14 range).
He brought in Israeli-born Executive Chef Shai Fargian for his command of Mediterranean cuisine and fine dining restaurant experience. Rounding out the team is fast-casual dining expert Paul Plocharczyck who has opened 70+ Salsaritas locations and formerly worked as the Director of Operations and eventually CEO of Yoforia.
The team worked with renowned American baker Peter Reinhart on the recipe for the lafah, a pita-like flatbread, and tapped Chef Einat Admony, owner of Balaboosta in New York City, for the co-creation of about half of the 70 recipes on the menu.
Here’s what I was invited to sample yesterday at a preview prepared at Mama Ricotta’s:
- Schug – a spicy green hot sauce traditionally made with parsley, cilantro and jalapenos
- Pickled cauliflower – made with amba, a tangy mango-based pickle condiment
- Israeli salad – diced tomato and cucumber dressed with lemon juice and olive oil
- Braised local beets – with whipped goat cheese
- Hummus – chickpea puree topped with olive oil and pine nuts
- Baba ganoush – eggplant puree
- Green tahini – an herbaceous sesame paste tinted green with mint and parsley
- Quinoa salad – with chickpeas and house-made preserved lemon
- Falafel – fried chickpea balls (and my favorite food on earth)
- Lafah – a pita-like flatbread without a pouch
My take: Hummus is basically the base of my food pyramid and falafel is my favorite food on earth. The guys asked me my favorite thing I sampled off their forthcoming menu and I proceeded to list off all 10 items on my plate. I have never been more excited about a restaurant opening in Charlotte.
Middle Eastern cuisine is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly by design but they will also offer chicken schnitzel and shawarma (pictured below) along with traditional lamb dishes. Rather than prepare the shawarma on a traditional vertical spit, Scibelli says they’ll cook it on a horizontal rotisserie over plates of potatoes that will collect the drippings.
Desserts will include malabi (a panna cotta-like milk pudding made with rosewater), Turkish coffee chocolate cake, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, honey and walnuts, and Nutella truffles (below).
Back in May, Scibelli hinted to Ted that he might have a Middle Eastern food concept up his sleeve. Yafo is, of course, the manifestation of that idea from earlier this year, but his interest in the cuisine dates all the way back to college when he lived with an Iranian roommate. “My mom would come make meatballs and his mom would come make Iranian food,” he said.
The restaurant will be located across the street from Earth Fare in the old Arooji’s space at Morrison and is slated to open in January or February.