Morning Star chef Tarik Abdullah will cook you food and hold your baby.
  • The Stranger
  • Morning Star chef Tarik Abdullah will cook you food and hold your baby.

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This past Sunday I was finally able to check out Morning Star Cafe, chef Tarik Abdullah’s brunch pop-up held at La Isla del Mojito restaurant in Hillman City. Abdullah, who runs his pop-up under the moniker A DJ and a Cook, has been hosting brunch and late-night gatherings at different locations around the city for the last two years, but thankfully it looks like brunch has settled into La Isla for the next few months.

The vibe alone—decidedly South Seattle—makes Morning Star worth a visit: a diverse group of people, happier and more energetic than most early diners I’ve encountered in this city, sharing four communal tables surrounded by bright yellow walls and big picture windows. It was gray and rainy outside, but you would never have known.

Abdullah’s flavors are bold and wide-ranging, heavily influenced by North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, but also drawing from South Asia and the Mediterranean. The Morning Star menu is short and sweet, offering Abdullah’s interpretations of dishes like muesli, quiche, pancakes, shrimp and grits, and the classic American trifecta of sausage, eggs, and hash browns. Thee Combo ($13)—hash browns spiced with oregano and lemon, Tabil (a Tunisian spice mix with coriander and caraway) scrambled eggs, and Merguez sausage—deftly balanced its many strong flavors so they were exciting rather than overwhelming. In Gambas con Polenta ($13), the saucy piri piri prawns sautéed with peppers and onions—bright and piquant—were a wonderful foil to the creamy yellow grits atop which they sat.

I was charmed by Abdullah’s shakshuka quiche ($7), a play on one of my favorite dishes, typically made of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce and scooped up with chunks of bread. In Abdullah’s version, soft scrambled eggs are baked atop a layer of smoky, cumin-infused tomatoes and a flaky crust. It may not have been quite as well executed as the leek, kale, and mushroom quiche ($7), but I preferred it for its playfulness and creativity. (Another big hit at our table: the Indian coriander-spiced pancakes with rose syrup and toasted pecans for $8.)

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Morning Star isn’t without a few wrinkles. We arrived close to the 9 a.m. start, and none of the three quiches on offer were done baking. Service was occasionally awkward (there weren’t quite enough water glasses or plates to go around, so there were attempts to prematurely remove things; cream and sugar took a lengthy, scenic route to the table), but always sweet. It’s easy to overlook these flaws, though it’s probably best to come mentally prepared for a few snags.

Abdullah doesn't hide out in the kitchen, instead making regular appearances in the dining room, running food, asking people about their dishes, stopping to hug friends and hold random babies. Apparently, he's currently a contestant on the ABC reality cooking show The Taste, where he was selected by Anthony Bourdain to be on the celebrity chef’s team. I’ve never seen an episode, but it’s easy to see why Abdullah would be successful: He’s charismatic, warm, and his food is on point.

The next Morning Star Cafe will be held at La Isla del Mojito on Sunday, January 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.