The Oscars of the food world has finally confirmed what Brooklynites have known in their hearts and stomachs for more than 70 years — that Sahadi’s grocery store in Brooklyn Heights is one of America’s great culinary institutions.
The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday bestowed the venerable Atlantic Avenue Middle Eastern emporium with its America’s Classics award. It’s just about the highest honor available for a casual neighborhood food store — even one that has been around as long as Sahadi’s, according to its proprietor.
“We’ve gotten plenty of very good press over the year, but the James Beard Foundation is definitely the most prestigious food-related organization,” said co-owner Christine Whelan, a Bay Ridgite whose dad Charlie Sahadi ran the store for 50 years before retiring last year. “It’s in its own class.”
The foundation feted the market as the “heart” of the cluster of Middle Eastern stores along the stretch that make up “Brooklyn’s fertile crescent.”
“Sahadi’s is a bulk bin wonderland, packed with locals scooping through glass jars of amaranth, pistachios, dried figs, spices, and roasted coffee, or loading their carts with pantry goods like pomegranate molasses and Middle Eastern cheeses,” the organization wrote it its announcement of this year’s five winners. “It all comes together in the deli, where the family stocks multiple varieties of rich, tangy labneh, vats of creamy hummus and delicious seasonal salads as well as stocking the bakery with flaky borekas and baklava, harissa-drenched lavash and Middle Eastern breads.”
Whelan and brother Ron — whose grandfather opened the store on Atlantic Avenue in 1948 — will officially collect their prize at a ceremony in Chicago in May, and she says she can’t wait.
“It’s very exiting,” she said. “We definitely want to be part of that food conversation and we’re looking forward to meeting our peers.”