Keeping tabs on all of the halal places popping up across Long Island sometimes feels like a never-ending quest. “Was that one there before? Wait, when did that one open?” Inside each, you’re usually assured a dependable template — chicken or lamb over rice, gyros, falafel and its brethren drizzled with creamy white and spicy chili sauces, and plated quickly. What sets them apart, though?
Die-hard halal fans may each have their answer to that. So does Mohamed Siraj Salahudeen, who developed his own ideas during decades of both eating at halal carts and managing restaurants and catering halls. About 10 years ago, Salahudeen opened what he said was the “first and only” halal-Italian restaurant in New York City, the Olive Tree, which operated in midtown for a few years. By the time he opened Salah’s Halal in East Islip last spring — a decidedly more casual place, named for his late father — Salahudeen had his brand signature down: Meats marinated overnight, falafel and sauces made fresh daily, plenty of fusion (think lamb-goat cheeseburgers and fried chicken sandwiches) and dishes made to order with nary a warming tray in sight.
It’s a formula he’s also put into place in a second Salah’s Halal, which opened in September in the space where Commack Breakfast operated for decades. Salahudeen is an avid biker and has given the place a kitschy motorcycle theme, cast in bright reds and golds with a gleaming Suzuki Volusia bike parked in the dining room.
Another point of differentiation: Sri Lankan touches dot the menu, from spice profiles to deviled sauce.
“Everyone in Sri Lanka knows devil,” said Salahudeen, who grew up there. Devel, or devil seasoning, is a blend of sweet, spicy and umami flavors, such as garlic, ginger, chili, citrus, tomato, soy and cinnamon; Salah’s kitchen serves it alongside chicken wings or as an addition to gyros, bowls and burgers. (The East Islip location also serves Sri Lankan-style coconut rice, but Commack does not).
Barbecue, hot, blue cheese and the signature white sauces also make appearances on platters of diced chicken thighs, ground lamb, chickpea-fava bean falafel or fish over basmati rice; six gyros; seven burgers; and sandwiches such as Venom, a grilled chicken thigh with turkey bacon and sliced jalapeños that is named, like many dishes, for a motorcycle.
“It’s semi-fast food,” said Salahudeen, whose biker friends roared up en masse to the Commack grand opening a few weeks ago. “We grind the chilis, we make falafel from scratch, we marinate the chicken for 24 hours. I try my best to make everything healthy and fresh.”
Most platters, sandwiches and burgers fall between $9 and $13; among the sides are a ground-beef-taco, nachos, fries and a kebab roll. Later this fall, Salahudeen will offer American-style breakfast sandwiches, an homage of sorts to the longtime deli that was once here, and begin opening at 6 a.m.
For now, Salah’s opens at 10 a.m. daily. Salahudeen, who is also an event planner and caterer, has plans for many more Salah’s both in New York and farther afield, fueled by a quiet determination to go head-to-head with the chains already established here.
Salah’s Halal is at 95 Commack Rd., Commack. 631-486-2146, salahshalal.com