It’s hard to imagine a place making a better first impression on its guests than Asali Desserts & Café.
Located in the heart of Cary’s revitalized MacGregor Village shopping center, the fledgling 39-seat eatery functions as a gourmet sweet shop, a refined coffeehouse and a picture-perfect gathering spot.
Asali represents the fulfilment of a longtime dream for proprietors and husband-wife duo Jamaal Ali and Hanadi Asad. What began as a dessert and special events catering business in 2001 has become a brick-and-mortar showplace featuring some of the most distinctive and delectable treats you’ll find in the area.
“To me, Asali is not just a dessert café,” said Asad, who was born in Kuwait but has lived in the United States most of her life. “It’s representative of modern, simple elegance.”
Asad and Ali combined their last names to create the moniker “Asali,” which also happens to be the word for “sweets” and “honey” in Arabic and Persian. Ali hails from Raleigh but is quick to mention his Palestinian heritage. The couple has five children and lives in Apex.
When it comes to Asali’s featured treats, globe-spanning delicacies abound — baklava, ladyfingers, macarons and kunafa, a delightful sugar-soaked pastry. At any given time, at least half a dozen types of tantalizing cakes appear in the well-stocked display cases.
“Jamaal’s mother taught me how to bake,” Asad said. “Many of the recipes I use came from her.”
Order the wildly popular baklava cheesecake and prepare for a life-changing epicurean experience. During the holiday season, Asali can create everything from a classic yule log cake to a whimsical miniature gingerbread house. Be advised: Custom and specialty items should be ordered in advance.
Asad insists that proper presentation and attention to detail are paramount.
“I’m very involved with how things look, and consistency is important,” she said. “We want people to be impressed with the freshness and quality of our products.”
Small plates with savory menu items include hummus and pita chips, spinach pie and tabouli salad with quinoa. Try the cheese pie with za’atar, an herb-and-spice mixture with sumac and sesame seeds.
A full-service coffee and tea bar provides plenty of tempting options. There are the requisite espressos, cappuccinos and lattes, but you may also enjoy sipping some robust Turkish coffee or a velvety smooth traditional Middle Eastern drink sahlab, topped with cinnamon, coconut and pistachio.
Asali sources its java from Durham’s Counter Culture Coffee. Much of the tea is procured from Jeddah’s Tea, also located in the Bull City.
Guests are encouraged to find a seat, relax and stay as long as they want.
“I love for people to sit, talk and catch their breath,” Asad said with a smile. “We see all types of people coming in, even senior citizens, which is great.”
Asali’s transitional layout lends itself to providing various seating options for its guests. Upholstered sofas and chairs near the back offer comfort and a modicum of privacy. An elevated bar along the front window affords flexibility and access to abundant natural light. Assorted tables and transparent chairs work nicely for groups.
Granite countertops for the display cases and polished cement flooring give Asali an upscale-but-unfussy vibe. The café’s ceiling is painted black, and stylish light fixtures hang throughout the warm, inviting space.
“I like to think of Asali as modern but not sterile,” Asad said while pointing out a nearby accent wall featuring a traditional Palestinian geometric motif.
Courteous, helpful staff members are eager to answer questions and make recommendations to guests.
“We appreciate our team members and consider them like family,” said Asad. “Without them we could not be successful.”
From the looks of how many seats were filled during recent visits, all indications point toward bright future for Asali.
Asali Desserts & Café
107 Edinburgh Dr., Suite 106-A, Cary
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