Decades of reporting on the local food scene has taught me the perils of claiming that an establishment is the only one on Long Island serving a particular cuisine. But if there’s somewhere besides Aubergine food truck that’s making Egyptian food here, it’s news to me.
Aubergine took up its position opposite Plainview Hospital’s parking lot last May and, since then, owners Haidy Estfanos and her husband, Sherif Ishak, have been there almost every day from 2 to 7 p.m. (The truck's whereabouts and daily specials are posted on Facebook.)
The couple had been working in catering since shortly after they emigrated from Egypt about 15 years ago, with Estfanos rising to an executive position and Ishak supervising events. But, from the time he was a small boy, Estfanos said, "Sherif always dreamed of having a food truck — well, back in Cairo most of them were food carts, but street food was a big deal there."
The dream was specific and two dishes were nonnegotiable: grilled sujuk (sausage) with peppers, and Alexandrian liver, stir-fried on a flat-top with green peppers and tucked into a long roll. Rounding out Aubergine’s menu are some familiar Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus, falafel, babaganoush and shawarma (beef and chicken). Less familiar are foul mudames (stewed fava beans) and koshari, which I learned is the Egyptian national dish. It certainly deserves to be: It’s a savory pileup of rice, lentils, pasta (both long and short) topped with a deliciously oily tomato sauce, fried onions and chickpeas.
"Aubergine" is French for eggplant and the moussaka here is one of the best I’ve sampled. Instead of a casserole that has been made in advance, the Aubergine team fries eggplant slices to order, then tops them with a chunky, tomato-pepper sauce and fried, whole hot peppers. Like many of the dishes here, it can be ordered as an individual portion or as a catering tray. Prices here are comically low, with plates for $10 and sandwiches from $5 to $8.
It took Ishak three years to buy, design and outfit his truck, and to secure all the permits and certifications to serve food from it. Establishing a food truck during a pandemic turned out to not be the worst possible luck since COVID-19 gave takeout a boost. The biggest challenge the couple faced was the unfamiliarity of their food.
"We were nervous that non-Egyptian people wouldn’t ‘get’ it," Estfanos said, "but we did not want to compromise. I would tell new customers, ‘You don’t have to buy this, just taste it.’"
Aubergine’s recipes are almost all from Ishak’s mother, who taught both partners how to cook. "My own mother worked full time," Estfanos said. "And when I married Sherif, his mother didn’t push to teach me but she would say, ‘Let me help you with that. She was very patient." Genate Sherif still lives in Egypt, but Estfanos’s mother, Suzan, lives on Long Island and contributes to the business in another way, equally profound. "She looks after our two daughters while we are working. Really, she takes care of all of us."
Aubergine is parked at 1 Kalda Lane, Plainview, 516-859-2407 / 516-789-4665, facebook.com/Aubergine