The Houstonia editorial staff has a new favorite sweet snack: the Lebanese butter cookie called ghraybeh, sold at Suzie's Pastry Shoppe on the corner of Richmond and Dunvale. How do you pronounce it? Don't try. I watched five YouTube videos in an attempt to figure it out, and each hostess said it differently. Just make some guttural sounds, point and hope for the best.
But you should at least make that effort. We're obsessed with good reason. The crumbly butter cookies rolled in pistachios would be hard to put down if they ended at that description. But the magic is in the center, in the form of pistachio paste that slowly blooms with a wash of rose.
But there's far more to love about Suzie Elaridi's pastries than one very special cookie. Her native Lebanon occupies an unusual place in the pastry pantheon. Because the country was under French rule from 1920 until 1943, its pastry traditions have absorbed a strong Gallic influence.
A walk around the counter at Suzie's encompasses a range of cultures: there's baklava and kanafeh representing the broadly Mediterranean at one end, French layer cakes at the other. I found the pretty slice above to be too dry, but that was the only misfire I've experienced at Suzie's.
The mafruka is another winner: It's a cream cake that may look European, but identifies as wholly Lebanese or Syrian. The semolina cake is green with pistachios (sensing a theme yet?), and filled with fluffy cream. A tiny cup of lightly rose-scented syrup is tucked into the take-out container with the square of cake. It's disarmingly rich, so a little goes a long way.
I always find fusion of culinary traditions particularly interesting, though, so I couldn't resist taking home some madeleine-shaped butter cookies. They sandwiched apricot jam, with one end dipped in chocolate, then... pistachios. They reminded me of the European desserts with which I grew up, but with just a spark of exoticism. And for this pistachio lover, it's worth going out of my way for the occasional (or not so occasional) bite of what Suzie is serving.