SHERIF AND NADINE FARAG say the story of their bakery in Portsmouth has its roots on Elephantine Island in Egypt’s Nile River, where an ancient bakery stood.
“We are inspired by this history, by the timelessness of bread,” the Farags say on the website for their 10 Commercial Alley bakery and restaurant.
Since opening in November 2018, Elephantine has earned a reputation for freshness and innovation, and expanded its pastry repertoire to include hearty sandwiches with an international twist.
The start of outdoor dining this month gave Our Gourmet an opportunity to visit the bakery’s charming alley location between Market Street and Penhallow Street. Four tables sit out front, giving a distinct French cafe feel to the space. (To get a table, reservations must be made online.)
Sherif Farag is a graduate of Ferrandi Paris, a culinary arts school, and says on his website that Elephantine is also “informed by the diverse and dynamic countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.”
OG decided to take him at his word and chose Egg Simit ($9), a hearty sandwich on simit (Turkish circular leavened bread crusted with sesame seeds). The two “jammy” eggs — cooked to just that consistency and sliced lengthwise — were accented with roasted eggplant, baba ghanoush and beet hummus.
The hummus gave the eggs an exotic color and tang, and with the grounding of fresh spinach, managed to convey earthiness and airiness, not an easy pairing to pull off.
The Dining Companion (DC) went for the Falafel Pita ($13), which could easily have fed two. It’s available after 11 a.m., and because we arrived at 11, we were too late for the Ricotta Lemon Danish DC had longed for (more on that later). Lesson: Go online and order the night before you go.
As we sat at our table we witnessed a stream of people picking up takeout orders. All were beaming, and greeted Sherif at Elephantine’s door with great enthusiasm.
DC said the falafel (fried ground chickpeas) was perfectly cooked. The tahini vinaigrette really made it pop, along with the baba ghanoush, whole chickpeas, lettuce and pickles. The house pita held it all together.
We also ordered a Pain Au Levain ($7) to go. Elephantine describes this as “a French spin on a classic San Francisco sourdough” and recommended toasting it with butter and a sprinkle of salt. We took that advice and enjoyed it the next morning for breakfast, with OG adding a drizzle of Tupelo honey.
We washed it all down with perfectly calibrated iced coffee and agreed Elephantine’s pastries had to be sampled.
A week later, we pre-ordered an assortment, and invited a friend (Dining Companion II, or DCII) to picnic with us.
It was a perfect June morning, and DCII dug into a ham and cheese croissant ($4.50), which she described as “just the right combo of flaky and savory.” OG manhandled her own ham-and-cheese, and agreed.
DC was in heaven with her Ricotta Lemon Danish ($4), diving into a pool of cheese embraced by delicate pastry with a lemon glaze. DCII confiscated a Pain au Chocolat ($3.50) for later, (“Elephantine has it down!” she texted after eating it).
On both visits, we ordered a croissant, the simplest and yet most complex of French delights ($3.25). Our disappointment in the first croissant (a bit too dense) was blown away by the lightness of the second.
DCI loved the Blood Orange Hibiscus Tea ($3.50 for a large), declaring it “everything I ever wanted in an iced tea and more.”
Next time we’re going for the Orange Blossom Baklava ($3.50) and/or the Carrot or Chocolate Cake slice ($5). Or maybe the giant Chocolate Chip Cookie ($3) or the Egyptian Bread Pudding ($4.50) ... you get the picture.