I happen to love Lebanese food and seek it out wherever I can. I was first introduced to it through some of my favorite catering clients about 23 years ago right here in Buffalo. The client entertained quite often and hired me to do the American food, while having their family members, specifically “the Aunties”, cover the Lebanese food. This family’s spread was rich in culture and flavor. Truly some of the best food I have ever had and I never lost my love for this cuisine. A fellow Buffalo Rising writer told me about Cedars Bakery and that it was a great lunch place for Lebanese sandwiches. I decided to make a trip over to check it out.
When I arrived to the bakery on Dingens Street in Buffalo, there was a short wait for ordering and a counter full of lunches to be delivered. As I waited, I checked out the little market place they have in the small storefront.
They sell Lebanese olive oil (some of the best around btw), olives, grape leaves, halva, tahini, hummus and a freezer full of their falafel mix, meat & spinach pies and pita. I grabbed a couple bags of the pies, as well as a container of lebneh (a Middle Eastern strained yogurt) and a gallon of olive oil.
Finally it was my turn to order. The menu features pita sandwiches with some American classics, pita melts, simple salads and their specialties. The specialties are mainly a variety of Lebanese or Mediterranean wraps along with some of their specialty savory pies. I was still stumped even though I had plenty of time to ponder the menu. I opted to get a Mediterranean Wrap with falafel (a chick pea fritter), hummus & tabouleh (a bulgur wheat & parsley salad) and I asked for some lebneh on it too. It was all nicely wrapped in their flatbread that they bake on site, and came with their house made crispy pita chips, tzatziki and a pickle. The sandwich was fresh and flavorful, just as it should be. I clearly understood why everyone lined up to get a piece of the love.
While I waited for my sandwich, I had the opportunity to chat with some of the members of this family owned business. There are two brothers, James and Andrew Issa, who run the place now. Their father originally opened the bakery in 1981 on Niagara Street. James stated, “My brother and I used to go there and roll in the flour to make it look like we were hard at work.” They sold the building on Niagara Street in 1999 and moved to Orchard Park. Cedars was always a bakery, specializing in pita breads. The family informed me that they use simple, whole ingredients in their dough. Pita dough is flour, salt, yeast and water. No preservatives and they bake fresh on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So note that you can pick up fresh pitas from the oven on these days. They make the spinach and meat pies on Fridays. Whatever is not purchased on those days is frozen and sold in their market place. I had always wondered what made pita a “pocket.” What made them puff up to create this air pocket? So I asked and it is all in the sheeting or rolling process. Apparently this is a family secret and experienced pita bakers have their own signature ways of sheeting.
Cedars moved back to the Buffalo area around 2001 when they found a building on Dingens to move their production to. They still have the Orchard Park location as well. In 2012, the brothers decided to renovate the building and have a storefront for customers to come and pick up their bread. James told me, “It only made sense that since we have delicious fresh bread, experience making delicious American/Greek cuisine, and a mom that makes the best Lebanese food on the planet, we make our storefront a sandwich shop also.” So the Cedars Bakery and Deli opened.
I finished my delicious sandwich, gathered up my shopping bag full of Lebanese goodies and bid farewell to the Issa family. On my way out, Andrew gave me a piece of baklava to take with me. His mother makes it by hand and he wanted me to try it. Later that evening, I was excited to try some more things for dinner. My culinary visit to the amazing Mediterranean continued. I made a nice big salad, warmed up the meat and spinach pies and prepared a plate with lebneh and olive oil. Cedars savory pastries were great to serve with the salad and lebneh. I bought the mini versions, which are nice to have for parties or like I did, as a side with a salad for a lighter dinner. They do also make full size entrée portions, so there are options. The lovely piece of baklava was my last taste of the day. I felt like I could taste the layers of love that goes into making this buttery, sweet, decadent morsel. The matriarch of the Issa family is present in every bite.
I am grateful we can get a little piece of this family’s traditional fare at Cedars Bakery! Most folks know that Mediterranean cuisine is fantastic and often a healthier option, but to find a place in our city, with a family making it from scratch and ready for pick up… now that is a true gem.
Cedars Bakery & Deli – See Facebook
111 Dingens St.
Buffalo, NY 14206
Lunch Hours are Daily from 10 am – 4 pm