DAR 525 has opened its new location at 168 Driggs at Diamond, and it’s a hit with Greenpoint. The cozy, aromatic spot has been smartly decked out with décor from owner Johan Fabiano Dawood’s travels in the Middle East, and on a recent Friday night around 7:00 p.m., not a single table was empty. With its excellent prices and incredibly savory, well-spiced fare, it’s easy to see why.
Greenpointers sat down with owner Johan over an incredible spread of nutty muhammara, cheesy pistachio flatbread pizza, and tender lamb kibbeh to discuss his new venture. Johan is warm, friendly and knowledgeable about food. A passionate eater, he goes out and tries a new restaurant in Greenpoint every day, so say hello to him if you see him out sampling a new spot in the neighborhood.
Read on to find out the secret that most people don’t know about DAR 525’s culinary heritage.
GP: We know this is Middle Eastern food, but is there a specific country from which you draw recipes?
Johan: It’s actually Syrian, but people get nervous about that for some reason, so we call it Mediterranean.
GP: The restaurant has been busy and packed all night, and it seems like the neighborhood is really responding. What do you think accounts for how quickly it’s become popular?
Johan: Our food is honest, fresh and authentic. My mom and my dad, who fled the war in Syria, are the chefs at both locations. The dishes we make are of high-quality ingredients at a great value to our guests. We’ve had the Williamsburg location for over four years, so people in the area are familiar with the name and the quality of our food.
GP: What restaurants did you own before, and what do you own now?
Johan: I owned Black Swan, Palmyra and Figs, and I now own DAR 525 in Williamsburg, DAR 525 in Greenpoint, and 3 Kings, a members-only English speakeasy, in Williamsburg.
GP: Tell us the story of opening DAR in Williamsburg, and then in Greenpoint.
Johan: It all started with a dream to share some of my family recipes with Brooklynites. We opened DAR in East Williamsburg a bit over four years ago, when the neighborhood was just starting to develop into what it is today. The neighborhood embraced us with open arms and business took off. After a wildly successful run at that location, we decided to expand into a new neighborhood. Greenpoint was a natural extension.
GP: How did you come to work in restaurants?
Johan: I fell into the restaurant business when I was 16 years old. I started as a busboy for a restaurant called Mustache in the east village. Restaurant work was the easiest way to make money for a young immigrant man while going to school.
GP: What is your vision for DAR 525 in Greenpoint?
Johan: We want the Greenpoint location to become a neighborhood institution and destination. Our vision is to create an intimate and inviting space with amazing food where friends and families can break bread and create memories for years to come.
GP: You said earlier that your mother was a great cook. What did she cook that influenced your restaurants today?
Johan: It’s not necessarily what she made, but the attention to detail and love she poured into her cooking. Where I come from, food is about sharing with family, neighbors and friends. I never remember having lunch or dinner at our home with less than 10 guests at the long communal table.
GP: How do the Williamsburg and Greenpoint locations differ in their offerings, clientele and atmosphere?
Johan: This location is cozier than the Williamsburg location and almost all of our patrons are people who live in Greenpoint. So this really is a neighborhood spot. I feel there’s a stronger sense of community and camaraderie amongst residents and business owners.
What are your top five favorite dishes at the Greenpoint location?
Johan: Pistachio pizza. Sometimes I drizzle a little bit of honey on top. The sweet, savory combination is incredible! The falafel sandwich with sweet potato fries. The chicken soup with fresh baked pita. The stuffed French toast off the brunch menu. And the lamb kebab platter.
GP: What is one item you’d like to add to the menu?
Johan: We have an amazing family recipe for roasted eggplant stuffed with lamb that I am thinking about adding.
GP: What are your favorite places to eat in Greenpoint?
GP: You said you were considering moving here from Park Slope. What do you like about Greenpoint?
Johan: What I like most about Greenpoint is its character, the unique blend of old and new world. The traces of a bygone era as you walk past the butcher shops, pharmacy, churches and storefronts. This neighborhood has soul and charm! Greenpoint reminds me of Park Slope and Cobble Hill when I first moved there, 16 years ago.
GP: What are your future plans for programming and food and drink?
Johan: Our focus for the near future is increasing our catering and delivery business.
Within the next couple of months, we’re adding beer and wine to the menu, possibly a couple new menu items utilizing our brick oven. And if all goes well, we would like to expand into a larger space by early next year.
I am also considering having a cooking class once a week run by my mom; it will be a great way for us to get to know our neighbors and patrons.