We hear it, and smell it, before we see it. At Addy’s Barbeque in Astoria, every mishkaki enters the dining room with a sizzle.
The style of cooking, let’s be clear, isn’t the “low and slow” barbeque of the American South. Don’t expect smoked beef brisket, which requires hours and hours of cooking, and certainly not pulled pork, since Addy’s keeps halal. Think “char-grilled” chunks of beef, or chicken, or a mix of the two.
The food is more in keeping with backyard cookouts in the suburbs that surround New York City. That’s where Addy himself – Adnan Khan – lives with his family, in the Bergen County, New Jersey, township of Teaneck. “If there’s a barbeque” to be organized for a get-together, Addy tells us, “I’m the one who’s in charge.”
But Addy also draws on his upbringing, his school days and his early career, which together span three continents, when serving East African mishkaki in northwestern Queens.
In Kenya, where Addy was born 40-some years ago, and in its coastal neighbors, Somalia and Tanzania, mishkaki is a familiar street food. The name is Ki-Swahili for “kebabs” of halal meat that are marinated, skewered and grilled. At Addy’s Barbeque, an order of mishkaki might be accompanied by masala fries, slathered in a tangy crimson paste, and a lassi; Kenya, which borders the Indian Ocean, hosted many railway workers from the subcontinent in the early 20th century.
Addy’s grandfathers, in fact, each came to Africa from pre-Partition India, in what is now Pakistan – one from Peshawar, the other from the vicinity of Kashmir. Each married a Kenyan woman – one Maasai, the other Kikuyu. Addy, in consequence, speaks both Urdu and Ki-Swahili in addition to English.
His university-level education was in India, where he lived with doctors who cooked their own food. So did Addy, who says he “would hardly eat outside.” He studied mathematics, physics and, for a time, chemistry; received a B.Sc.; became a C.P.A.; and took an 8-to-5 job. “Boring” was his quick assessment.
After traveling to visit cousins, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Ireland, he took a job as a waiter – which lasted until he looked into the kitchen and decided to enter culinary school. We wondered, just like that? “I am very decisive,” says Addy. “I don’t waste time to take that initial step.”
Addy jumped into his new life with both feet. Soon he was working events, managing a team of cooks – and getting married. His new wife hailed from northern New Jersey; not long after, the young couple moved to Teaneck. Today, 13 years later, they’re a family of six.
Addy draws on his upbringing, his school days and his early career, which together span three continents, when serving East African mishkaki in northwestern Queens.
Addy’s first restaurant, in New Jersey, was not a success. The permitting process was laborious and, when the restaurant finally opened its doors after a year and a half, an economic recession helped seal its fate. But “the people who knew me” from that early effort, he tells us, “are the people who supported me straight away” when he opened the original Addy’s Barbeque, in Teaneck, in 2015. (In 2018, he also helped to open a restaurant in Elmont, New York, that operates under a similar name but no longer shares any business relationship.)
We first visited the original Addy’s and enjoyed mishkaki there, after traveling from New York by bus (it’s not far). In Teaneck and the neighboring suburbs, however, most folks drive their own cars; two gasoline stations sit on opposite corners the next block over. Across the street from Addy’s, which sits in a low-rise commercial strip, is a school athletic field; a leisurely drive up the road is the local fire department and, beyond it, a parking lot for a national fast-food business.
But good luck finding parking near Steinway St., in Astoria, where Addy signed a lease in September 2018 and opened his doors two months later. Street traffic is constant; a subway rumbles underground. A stroll on the sidewalk often entails weaving in and out of oncoming pedestrians, especially when walking north toward the dense stretch of restaurants, cafes, sandwich counters, hookah lounges and markets whose owners first lived in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen. Most if not all keep halal.
None we know of, however, hails from East Africa – Addy has cornered the local market in Kenyan cuisine. Even so, large portions of his menu are devoted to dishes familiar all around the world, and popular with all ages. They include a dozen or so flavors of chicken wings and a fistful of burgers, some basic, some overloaded. (Lean forward over the plate, is our advice, when biting into a Juicy Lucy.)
To our surprise, the American South stakes a claim at Addy’s after all: The country-fried steak, served atop mashed potatoes and accompanied by a brimming cup of gravy, is one of the best we’ve ever had.
Because mishkaki is new, at first, to most of Addy’s clientele, he’s simplified the presentation rather than risk confusing his customers. Typically, at a Kenyan roadside stall, mishkaki is served with flatbread, the meat arrives on the skewer, and the customer adds sauces and other accompaniments to his or her liking. In Astoria, mishkaki is served with rice and a salad, and the chunks of meat, sans skewers, are already seasoned, à la Addy. There’s nothing to do but dig in; we can practically taste the sizzle.