Mahalab Bakery - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Mahalab Bakery

Order savory Levantine baked goods with innovative twists at this takeout-only spot.  


Avoid the hungry hordes lining up for bagels and head next door to this Mediterranean bakery on Massachusetts Avenue. Mahalab Bakery serves a strictly savory array of golden-crusted baked goods. First among them are fatayers, Levantine stuffed pies that come filled with spinach, feta, and wild oregano, or roasted peppers and crumbly goat cheese, or, if your palate is craving a New England twist, acorn squash, ricotta, and sage. 

Meat-eaters may gravitate to the beef and tomato sfiha, a dough patty topped with grass-fed ground beef seasoned with smoked paprika and pomegranate molasses. The pies come as delicately folded triangles, discs, or boats.

The true star here is the dough, which is springy, complex, and generously doused with the highest-quality olive oil. The pastry dough also has a distinct ingredient: mahalab, the nutty, floral spice made from the ground seed of a cherry tree found along the Mediterranean and the Middle East. 

Owner Ayham Haddad, who began baking as a teenager in Jordan, moved to the U.S. over a decade ago and began selling his breads and pastries at Boston-area farmers markets. He soon amassed a word-of-mouth following, and opened this brick-and-mortar store in the spring of 2024, challenging customers to think beyond associating a coffee-and-pastries outing with sugar. 

“People always walk in and ask: do you make baklava?”Ayham says. Despite the often stunned responses he receives from opening a savory-only bakery, he knows he is creating a new association where pastries connote nutrition and satisfaction, staples a family could eat every day. 

“I love sweet [pastries], but there’s something beautiful about having a savory breakfast,” Ayham says. Lattes and croissants are great, but how about a raspberry-hibiscus tea paired with a salty spinach-feta pie? Or this: an iced-coffee with a fatayer filled with roasted green chilis brushed with garlic, mixed into egg salad—an Ayham invention—where mayo is replaced by labne and goat cheese to create a rich egg-salad taste with an astonishingly airy, frittata-like texture. 

Another unexpected offering at Mahalab is the focaccia, which Ayham makes with sourdough and which comes in the varieties of za’atar, black garlic and roasted pepper, or olives with rosemary. Ayham uses a starter that gives the sourdough a yogurt-y, vinegary taste, lending the focaccia complexity without overpowering acidity. Its texture is soft and pillowy, with an elegant tartness that blends beautifully with the vegetal accents of the herbs and garlic. 

Walk out with your fatayers heated so that the dough collapses and the roasted ingredients glisten, then cross the street to savor your meal sitting on the steps of the great white church, where local breakfasters convene.

And keep an eye out for new, inventive combinations Ayham is always working on: his wife is Chinese, and they’ve been discussing a char-siu pastry, the meat filling made with an 19th-century Cantonese recipe. “I don’t know what my in-laws would think about that,” Ayham chuckles.

Know Before You Go

Mahalab Bakery also sells tubs of garlic hummus, labne, and jars of ajvar (roasted bell pepper and eggplants), as well as their namesake mahlab spice. 

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June 13, 2024

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