Monday, Ali made falafel. Nothing exotic — it from a mix, baked in the oven, and served in a split pita. I’ve had this falafel before; it will satisfy my craving in a pinch, but doesn’t stack up to the genuine article.* Oven-baked is healthier — I get it — but health value doesn’t do much for a food whose main selling point is its luscious, fried crispness.
For a solid day, I craved falafel. I thought of Amanouz, the Mediterranean-inspired cafe on Main Street Northampton, where I’d get strong tea, couscous with lamb, Greek salads. Falafel, of course. Amanouz had a dining room scarcely wider than the tables it housed; one had to walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom, apologizing to each of the cooks en route. It was homey; it was cheap. I miss that place.
Hayes & Kebab (near Hayes and Laguna) (re-)opened a few months ago. The site was under construction for like, a year, and every time I took the 21 past it, I thought, “Huh, I wonder if that place is ever going to open.” By the end of my bus ride, I’d forgotten H&K, my thotz diverted to more pressing matters.
One day, Hayes and Kebab was open. The dining room was packed with peeps drinking pints, peeps eating pita — peeps! “Hey,” I thought, “I want some pita! I want a pint!” I resolved to try H&K as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Lo and behold, opportunity knocked on Tuesday night. Hook, not a fan of Mediterranean cuisine but a fan of Trying New Things, joined me on this jaunt. We arrived at prime dinner time (6:30), but the restaurant was mostly empty. No problem there — we snagged a prime seat just beside the front door.
Before I’d even arrived, I’d read the menu, weighed my options, and decided what to get. (Spoiler alert: I got falafel, but you knew that at the outset.) Not just any falafel, mind you, but the King Falafel. How does that differ from the common variety? In addition to the standard fixins’, the King includes cubed feta and grilled eggplant. Helllllllll yeah — I will never turn down the option of feta. Test me.
True to form, Hook ordered lamb: kebabs served with rice pilaf, barley pilaf, green salad, and bread. Good thing he was hongry. Oh, and we got our pints — Blue Moon for me, Coors(?) for H. We sipped as we waited for our food — rather a long wait, given the empty dining room, but not an egregiously bad one. We warmed in the evening sun, enjoying the stillness of our surroundings. That’s one thing H&K had going for it this Tuesday: a relatively peaceful seating area. Those are hard to come by in this city, and they don’t go unappreciated.
My falafel was much as I expected: crrrrrrrrrrrisp, shiny with grease, cooled by a slather of hummus, swaddled in shredded lettuce. Served in lavash, the sandwich had been grilled; the edges of the bread were cracker-crisp, and I swooned. This sandwich was perfect. Bonus: I saved the other half for the next day’s lunch, using the fillings to top a bed of spinach. Falafel salad is a close second to a proper wrap.
Hook’s food was not as impressive. The lamb was a tad overcooked (though, as Hook noted, you might not want to eat rare lamb at a fast-casual place), the bread was chewy, and the salad just was. Most surprisingly, the pilafs were both bland — like cafeteria food with all sodium omitted. I couldn’t wrap my head around why both sides were so tasteless. Even the rice I make at home — unseasoned and unadorned — is more flavorful! Sad to say, we suffered a #majorsidedishfail. Sorry, H&K: your sides don’t cut the mustard.
For now, I’ve found my falafel joint. Hayes & Kebab is close, cheap, and well-lit. BUT, don’t think I’m settling down: oh, no. No no no. My falafel hunt is far from over, friends. H&K’s wrap was good — pretty good, even — but this city is bound to have better. And, as my 3rd-grade gym teacher always said,** “Good, better, best/never let it rest/until your good becomes your better/and your better, your best.” DAMN STRAIGHT!
Holy grail of falafel, you will be mine.
*From-a-mix falafel satisfies a falafel craving the same way that Cool Whip between chocolate graham crackers sates an ice cream sandwich craving.
**Albeit about non-food pursuits, but who’s looking at context?