Falafel on the fly: Baba Nahm brings quick Middle Eastern eats to Grove Arcade

SIMPLE BUT VERSATILE: While the menu at Baba Nahm will feature only eight core dishes, the items can be combined in a variety of ways to create different meals. Classic Middle Eastern fare such as shwarma, tabbouleh, hummus, fattoush and pita sandwiches will be available at the counter and from a grab-and-go cooler.
SIMPLE BUT VERSATILE: While the menu at Baba Nahm will feature only eight core dishes, the items can be combined in a variety of ways to create different meals. Classic Middle Eastern fare such as shwarma, tabbouleh, hummus, fattoush and pita sandwiches will be available at the counter and from a grab-and-go cooler. Photo courtesy of Baba Nahm

The eclectic setting of downtown Asheville will soon welcome its latest creative infusion in the form of Baba Nahm. The new Mediterranean grab-and-go food joint is coming to the east side of the Grove Arcade this month in the space that formerly housed chef Hector Diaz’s restaurant Chorizo.

Baba Nahm, pronounced “bah, bah” (as in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”) and “nom” (as in the “om nom nom nom” of a hungry Cookie Monster), is the concept of Piazza and Rezaz founder Reza Setayesh and current Rezaz owners Brian and Laura Smith.

Setayesh opened Rezaz in 2002 and sold it to the Smiths in 2015 in an effort to devote more time to his family — particularly to the development of his children’s band, Posh Hammer. The Smiths, who were longtime employees at Rezaz before taking over ownership, say that the idea for Baba Nahm was something they had been kicking around for years before they assumed control of the restaurant.

Taste of the Middle East

Setayesh was born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in Abadan, a city in southern Khuzestan Province, near the Persian Gulf. He fled the country in 1978 at the beginning of the Iranian revolution. He and the Smiths hope Baba Nahm will inject the downtown Asheville community with a cuisine style and energy that might be found in a bazaar somewhere in the Middle East — but one that’s also comfortable and familiar to the 21st-century, smartphone-wielding American consumer.

Baba Nahm’s objective is also to become a neighborhood fixture. In a town that lures tourists by the busload with its fertile craft brewing, restaurant and arts scenes, Baba Nahm’s focus will be on feeding the growing local community of workers and residents who make this town function.

“There are so many great restaurants downtown, but a lot of them are geared toward sit-down meals because visitors and tourists have time,” says Setayesh. “But what about locals that are working and on the go? What about those that are coming through town for quick business and are back out again? We have this hustling and bustling downtown, but we don’t have many places for these sorts of people to be fed and nourished quickly and affordably.”

Keeping it simple

“I think a lot of times the actual food can get lost in the dining experience,” says Brian Smith. “We really just want to cut out all the unnecessary stuff and get right to the food.”

The Baba Nahm space was clearly designed with simplicity and efficiency in mind. Customers will encounter the ordering station immediately upon walking through the door, an intentional strategy meant to promote the grab-and-go vibe of the place. Behind the counter, the open kitchen will reveal rotating meat spits and meals being prepared to order. The dining area is built for comfort and speed, consisting of a little nook lined with bar stools and convenient outlets for laptops or cellphones, as well as a large communal table and a few seats outside.

The menu itself will consist of only eight core items, all in the affordable price spectrum of $3 to $7.95, not including extras. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here,” says Setayesh. “We’re not pushing duck or goat shawarma or anything like that. It’s really foundational cuisine that people can enjoy and expect to get really comfortable with.”

Lighter menu options include harira, a soup that consists of lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and pita chips in a vegetable broth seasoned with sweet spices, harissa and zhug. There is also a hummus bowl that includes pickled vegetables, Israeli salad, feta, olives, sumac, zatar, parsley and toasted pita, as well as Israeli potato fries tossed with zatar, lemon tahini and harissa sauce.

Heartier menu options will come in the form of Middle Eastern classics such as chicken and lamb shawarma and fresh-made falafel, which all come with hummus, Israeli salad, parsley salad, pickled vegetables, Arab pickles, lettuce and tahini. These will be available in the form of pita sandwiches (including gluten-free options), entrée-style plates or salads.

Vegetarian-friendly options are numerous. The sabich pita sandwich or plate, for example, consists of roasted eggplant, boiled egg and sautéed onion with hummus, Israeli salad, pickles, lettuce, tahini and amba (pickled mango). There are also the fresh fattoush and tabbouleh salads, which can be upgraded with the addition of falafel, chicken or lamb for an extra $2 to $4.

Desserts will include house-made baklava and chickpea fudge, and a limited menu of nonalcoholic drinks, beer and wine will also be available.

Despite the uncomplicated menu, patrons can expect to establish a versatile relationship with the food. “Even though there are only eight items on the menu, there are still a ton of different combinations customers will be able to play with,” says Laura Smith. “We’ll actually have a grab-and-go cooler right in front where customers can come in and grab some fresh pita, falafel, shawarma meat or tabouleh salad. I think this will be perfect for those who may have some leftover lettuce sitting in their refrigerator at home that they’re trying to use up, or just want to keep a pint or two of something at the office for an afternoon snack.”

Eventually, a Baba Nahm app will allow seamless transactions on the fly, and a slick online ordering platform is already in place.

Baba Nahm is expected to open before the end of this month in the Grove Arcade, 1 Page Ave., No. 139. Hours will be 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-late Friday-Saturday. Find updates at babanahm.com, on Facebook or Instagram pages, or by calling 828-575-2075. 

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About Nick Wilson
Nick Wilson is a native of the Midwest who moved to Asheville in September of 2016 after eight years in Los Angeles. When he's not writing for Mountain Xpress, his energies are focused on better understanding himself and the rich wealth of history that the world has to offer.

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