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Falafel Bar: Fresh and Fabulous

A short time ago, I took one of my favorite people, Michael Clarke of LISC, to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch.  We briefly talked about the state of the economy and its effect on housing, and that’s where the shop talk ended and the eating began.

Owner Oded Rauvenpoor was in the kitchen of the Falafel Bar on Allen Street, making magic, and started us off with a Traditional Maza ($16.99).  In our case, the Maza consisted of Hummus, Tabouli, Lebaneh with Eggplant, Grape Leaves, Baba Ganoush, Turkish Eggplant Salad, Homemade Pickled Vegetables (the added Falafel Teaser), and a wonderful Green Hot Sauce with a pesto consistency.  Pita on the side.
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Michael and I are both notorious talkers, but not just then.  The flavors were wonderful, and Oded joined us to talk a little bit about his food, his philosophy and his newest location, making three Falafel Bars in all.
You might remember Falafel Bar best from the small location it occupied on Elmwood, just south of Potomac.  I had an on-going argument with an old friend about Oded’s falafel being the best in the city.  My opinion was that if you didn’t believe it was, you hadn’t tasted it.  Taste it, and I’ll win that bet every time.  Oded explains that he only uses the freshest ingredients and only what will be used in a day.  His falafel is never, ever dry.
“I have been using the same suppliers for 10 years,” Oded says.  “We don’t use injected meat.  We grind our own meat and chick peas, we cut our lettuce.  We do everything by hand.  I use Guercio’s, Charlie the Butcher, Tarantino’s, Rochester Meat. I order my Tahini from Lebanon – which is more expensive than gold, but made traditionally – and I have lamb brought in from Toronto six days per week.”

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Oded does not mess around with quality, but considering a lot of what he does has to do with his own labor, the business model keeps Oded busy and means savings for his patrons.  “My goal is to keep prices as low as possible, and if I can have high volume, I can keep low cost.”

This is about when the Lamb Hummus ($8.99) and Chicken Shawarma ($11.99) came out.  I’m not a big lamb eater.  Okay, I’d never eaten lamb before, so I can’t say how it was compared to other lamb, but I’ll say this: The flavor overrode the guilt for that moment in time, sort of like the time I hadn’t eaten beef in a year until faced with Kobe tartare with horseradish sauce.  When in Rome.  Yes, the lamb was delicious, but I think anything served with Oded’s creamy hummus would be.
Speaking of Falafel Bar’s Allen Street location and Oded’s move from Elmwood, he says it’s the density that matters to him.  “Location isn’t about where the restaurant is, but about the foot traffic.  If I have high volume, I can keep low cost,” he says.  “I’ll open again some day on Elmwood, but full-scale, with a bar.”  For now, Oded has just opened a new place on Main Street, across from UB.  He’ll have a third party delivery service there too, Takeout Taxi, that he says works best when a lot of people are ordering, in order to defray the cost.
About the time MIchael and I were digging into the Shawarma, tender and rich with Middle Eastern spices, a woman came off the street to ogle our table.  I couldn’t blame her; the visual treat was almost as compelling as the taste, and on this sunny day, within the bright golden and green walls of Falafel Bar, she was drawn in.  Truth be told, she and a friend could have joined us, and there may still have been leftovers.
All of the Falafel Bars’ colors, fonts and logo were designed by Anna Rauvenpoor, and all add to the complete experience.  The dining area is spacious, clean and bright, and it’s a wonderful place to visit–to eat, to talk and to linger.
Tip: Oded noted that a lot of the businesses on Allen are closed on Mondays: “Why? I don’t know,” he says.  That makes Monday the best day to get to the Falafel Bar without fighting big crowds.
Falafel Bar:
69 Allen Street
882-2680
3689 Sheridan Drive
831-3980
3476 Main Street
831-3822
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