Two weeks ago, while driving down 19th Street South from Southside to Downtown (on my way to meet Mr Foodie for dinner at Bamboo), I noticed this sign:
(Exact location: 19th St S and 4th Ave S)
As I was driving and not able to add it to our list of places to try, it flew under my radar. That is, until last week when our friend Henna messaged me that her friend had just opened a new middle eastern place. That was the reminder I needed. Mr Foodie and I made plans to go that evening.
Falafel Cafe is in the old Sinbad location, although the two are not connected in any way. The place is simple: menu above, order at the counter, take your food and eat it at one of their 10 or so tables. The menu is perfect-very focused but with enough options to keep anyone busy for awhile.
Immediately upon entering, we were greeted with smiles and offered samples. It’s a good marketing strategy, because whatever you sample, you will want to try.
We noticed these:
. Meat layered on a spit, shaved off to eat. To our knowledge, there is only one other place in Bham where you can get shawarma –Eli’s Jerusalem Grill
(a blog favorite). So this is a real selling point. We ordered a shawarma plate with half beef and half chicken with some sides: hummus and yogurt salad.
We also ordered falafel. At a place called falafel cafe, it was a must. Plus, as a Jewish kid in Pittsburgh’s large Jewish community, falafel is one of my comfort foods.
Finally, we got a little side of pickles and red cabbage salad to go with everything. It all came with pita, which we learned came from a middle eastern bakery in Atlanta.
We watched Moses, the man we would later learn is the owner, carefully shape each falafel using a falafel shaper. One by one, into the fryer they went. The shawarma was cut off the spit onto our plates, and the pita was heated in a special press by the register. We both noticed what amazing use they make of that small space.
Now it was time to eat. First, the shawarma.
Oh, my. Juicy meat and crispy bits. Not greasy, but not dry. Perfectly seasoned. The garlic sauce (see photo below) was the perfect accompaniment. We devoured it.
The salads were just as good as the shawarma. The yogurt salad with cucumbers was a delicious light accompaniment to the meat. And the hummus, onto which a little bit of hot sauce (by choice) and olive oil was added, was smooth and creamy. The warm, thick pita went with it perfectly.
Delicious pickles and tart cabbage salad, which we mixed in with everything:
Mr Foodie couldn’t get enough of the shatta, a hot chili oil-based hot sauce. It was powerful but not overpowering, and had that great chili oil taste. He put it on everything, as so:
And the falafel. Absolutely outstanding. Thick, crispy on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside. Perfect.
We immediately made plans to return. Note that they are open Monday-Saturday from 10-8, which made it easy for us. Two nights later, we returned with friend and friend-of-the-blog Michelle to, well, try as much as we could on the menu.
When we walked in, Moses recognized us from our prior trip. Samples were again provided. Here’s what we had:
More shawarma, of course. This time, we asked for it to be served on rice. We ate it until every last bite was gone. The first picture includes some of the best baba ganouj I’ve ever had. So smoky. So wonderful.
Here’s Michelle’s, on a plate of tabbouleh, which was outstanding – very citrus-y and light. She also cleaned her plate.
Here’s a close-up of that tabbouleh:
Here are the juicy and rich kofta kabob
, a mixture of beef and lamb. Wonderful on top of mujadara, or rice mixed with lentils. Here, it is seen with the Jerusalem Salad, a delicious mixture of cucumbers and tomatoes with tahini sauce.
Let’s talk about lentils. Those who eat with me know that I generally hate beans of any kind, especially lentils. It’s a texture thing. The textures in the mujaddara were not the least bit mushy – they held their shape and blended perfectly with the rice. We also tried some of their lentil soup:
Oh my goodness. Again, the texture was perfect. It tasted so bright, almost citrus-y, and was both comforting and hearty at the same time. This soup is making me a lentil fan.
On both occasions, as we sat there eating our dinner, we noticed the place already has some loyal fans. We heard several people say that they were making their third trip this week, etc… A strong compliment for a place that’s only been open for a few weeks!
We were able to talk to Moses a little bit more about the place. Moses is from the city of Bethlehem. This is the food he grew up with. Historically he’s owned some fried food restaurants, but as he told us, “this is my hobby.” Clearly, it’s a labor of love. And it’s not a hobby anymore – it’s a successful restaurant.
Thank you Moses, for sharing what was once your hobby with the foodies of Birmingham. Falafel Cafe is an incredible addition to the Birmingham food scene.
And one note: this will be a perfect place to eat during Sidewalk this weekend. It’s closed Sundays but will be open Friday until 8pm and Saturday from 10-8. It’s only a short 0.6 mile walk/Zyp bike ride from the Alabama Theater. Just head straight down 19th street into Southside.