Nick Awad opened an optical store in the newly built Oak Park Mall in 1974. More than 40 years later, the 77-year-old entrepreneur still owns and operates Invision Eyewear — and he’s busier than ever, thanks to the addition of a new bakery.
Six months ago, Awad opened a Middle Eastern bakery in Lenexa called Nazareth Sweets that specializes in baklava, a sweet dessert made with nuts and buttery layers of phyllo dough.
“There was a need for this,” says Awad, who grew up in Jerusalem eating baklava and other sweets such as kanafeh, made with sweetened cream cheese and shredded phyllo dough, and hareeseh, a moist coconut cake.
Awad co-owns Nazareth Sweets with his nephew Samir Awad and Samir’s wife, Fairuz Awad, who are also from Jerusalem. The family chose the location at 12247 W. 87th St. because it’s in a shopping center with two other Middle Eastern businesses: Pak Halal International Foods and Holy Land Cafe.
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Holy Land Cafe is one of many local Middle Eastern restaurants that carries baklava and other treats baked by Nazareth Sweets. Others include Al Habashi Mart in the City Market, Jerusalem Bakery in Westport, Shahrazad Cafe and The Basha Cuisine in Overland Park, and Aladdin Cafe in Lawrence.
The bakery also sells sweets directly to customers. On my first visit I marveled over the contents of the glass case, full of more baklava than I’d ever seen in one place. Each rimmed baking sheet was filled with puffy, flaky golden pastries sliced into perfect rectangles.
Nazareth Sweets makes eight different types of baklava — everything from classic walnut to cashew or pistachio.
Baklava also comes in many shapes: fingers, rings, flowers and bird’s nests. The bird’s nest ($1.99 per piece), which tops a swirl of shredded phyllo dough with simple syrup and pistachios that resemble tiny green eggs, looks impressive. But my favorite baklava to eat is the flower (also $1.99), with flaky phyllo petals framing a jumble of golden toasted almond slivers.
Between the flaky phyllo and the sticky syrup, baklava can be a bit messy to eat. “But that’s the best part!” Nick told me over cups of potent Arabic coffee ($1.75) brewed by Fairuz with cardamom and a hint of sugar.
“It will keep you awake all day,” Nick told me.
The coffee cleansed — or maybe jolted — my palate when sipped between bites of maamoul, a cookie-like pillow filled with dates, and melt-in-your-mouth ghraybeh butter cookies with a soft, sandy texture “like Christmas cookies,” Nick said.
Nazareth Sweets’ key ingredient is high-quality clarified butter. It gives cookies a fine crumble and keeps the phyllo crisp and flaky, not soggy. A good baker is even more important. The Awads hired Atwan Ahmad, a baker from Amman, Jordan, with more than 40 years of experience.
Fairuz is also learning her family’s recipes one by one. “I can make every kind of baklava,” she said.
“She can also do hareeseh,” Nick said proudly, referring to the coconut cake saturated with sweet syrup and decorated with almonds. “She’s got it down.”
Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at email@example.com or tweet @sarah_gish.
Location: 12247 W. 87th Parkway in Lenexa
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: Baklava is this bakery’s specialty. You can’t go wrong with classic walnut or pistachio — but I also like the cashew baklava fingers and the beautiful almond baklava flowers. (Nazareth Sweets’ baklava costs $1.99 per piece or $9.99 for a 1-pound container). Other favorites include the ghraybeh butter cookies ($9.99 per pound) and the hareeseh ($5.99 per pound), coconut cake soaked in simple syrup and topped with almonds. The hareeseh’s texture reminded me of cornbread saturated with honey.