Something about being a claustrophobic high school upperclassman lent itself to my spending Saturday nights at Bibi’s Warmstone Bakery and Cafe back in my Shalhevet heyday. I wasn’t alone at the little Israeli joint on the corner of Pico and Livonia, of course – that was the spot when we were 16, 17 years old, too old for the Grove but not old enough for Crown Bar. Haha.
Bibi’s was almost unfairly low-priced when it first opened around 2005. I distinctly remember eating there several times a week one summer. You could get a personal pizza fired up in minutes, or a sambusak (which looks like a giant samosa or turnover) stuffed with potato, corn, and mushroom.
Everyone had his trademark order. My buddy Bain always got the feta toastee, a Jerusalem bagel sandwich of feta cheese and olives. My dad would get the sambusak pizza, filled with gooey mozzarella and tomato sauce so hot you would exhale steam.
The dankness extended to Saturday nights, when Bibi’s was open wee-er hours than any other spot in the circuit. Hours spent outside without supervision were a rare commodity growing up in the hood. Bibi’s filled that niche perfectly maybe even intentionally, and then we went running away to colleges far/wide, to full beards and internships without looking back.
So then I would look back. I returned to Bibi’s years later to see if it still attracted the same crowd on motzei Shabbos. I find that the menu has undergone a slight overhaul since I last burnt my tongue at the Warmstone.
The sambusaks, formerly pre-stuffed and waiting to be thrown in the oven, are now fully customizable with your choice of cheese (feta or mozzarella) and vegetarian accoutrements (mushroom, jalapeño, garlic sauce, etc.). Toastees work the same way, although the cafe suggests popular combinations.
My order was a throwback – sambusak with potato, mozzarella, corn, and tomato, which had actually been off the menu until the new owner, Dan Messinger, took over. He tells me about eighty percent of the menu has remain unchanged since the change in management. His goal is primarily to shore up the customer experience, which had been lacking (you can now charge your credit card with transactions under ten dollars!).
The taste is familiar, as is my instant recoil from first sinking my teeth into the zatar-topped sambusak—too hot! But outstanding. And worth it – the personal pizza, which I had ordered earlier that week, was great too and a bargain at only $3.50.
As Bain and I enjoyed our late-night bites, we faced an exceedingly present reality that we were too old to be there. Our old haunts were now overrun by a bunch of…us. Outside the restaurant, boys trying out pickup lines perfected on their side of the mechitza; girls shrieking, eyes widened, in the moment.
It was good to see some things haven’t changed, but it left us wondering where our niche is around this neighborhood, if we have one. Now that we’re about to graduate, to run away again to who knows where, we should probably get our trademark orders to-go.
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