Al Aqsa Sweets & Bakery is a Labor of Love
A family’s matriarch is carrying on a long-held dream at Al Aqsa Sweets on Schrock Road.
“He worked hard to make this happen,” says the owner of Al Aqsa Sweets, Fathieh Abdellatif, as she nods toward a photograph of her late husband, Mohammad Abdellatif, hanging in the nearly year-old shop. Together, the husband-and-wife team had built a Middle Eastern pastry business that they ran out of their Reynoldsburg home. They were in the process of realizing their dream of opening a brick-and-mortar shop when Mohammad died from complications associated with COVID-19.
No doubt, Fathieh and her family are honoring his memory with their hard work, and this is much to the benefit of all Central Ohio pastry lovers. When she casually mentions that her kitchen handcrafts the delicate phyllo pastry sheets that form the crispy layers of all baklava and baklavalike confections, it’s clear that this isn’t your average Middle Eastern bakery.
The evidence piles up from there. On Friday evenings, a crush of customers arrives to get a piece of Al Aqsa’s knafeh—a labor-intensive sheet pan dessert. It starts with a layer of pastry topped with sweet cheese, is then drizzled with syrup and topped with chopped pistachios.
And, when Fathieh’s son-in-law, Safwat Qashqeesh, explains the three-day process they use to make Burma baklava—including making the phyllo, rolling it around a pistachio center, frying it in ghee (clarified butter), soaking it in syrup, and allowing the baklava to rest—his pride in explaining the process is exceeded only by the satisfying crunch and delicate balance of flavors found in this labor of love.
Other novel offerings include the dessert shop’s Zainab’s fingers, crispy fried sticks of semolina dough that are syrup-soaked and tinged with a delicious hint of anise, plus awwamah (also spelled awwameh), which are crunchy semolina balls that yield to reveal a gush of sweetness redolent of rosewater. A unique range of Palestinian-style cakes are available, as well, with Al Aqsa’s helba (a fenugreek-flavored semolina creation that tastes of caramelized maple syrup), and basbousa (farina-based, with prominent coconut and orange flavors) among the standouts.
The options seem never-ending. Other recommended treats include warbat (a baklava sibling filled with custard), crispy Maha’s Eye cookies and imported Turkish delight. It’s a broader range of options than we’ve ever seen packed into such a cozy space (and just one reason why Al Aqsa is one of the city’s best new bakeries).
Upon marveling at the effort it takes to maintain high standards over such a wide range of options, Fathieh says, “Oh, we’re doing fine. But the price of eggs… .” She trails off, while shaking her head.
Al Aqsa Sweets & Bakery
1940 Schrock Road, North Side, 614-806-0293, alaqsasweetscolumbus.com