Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Famous Smoothie from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Falafel and grape leaves from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Chicken kafta from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Garlic sauce from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Famous Pudding from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Beef and chickem shawarma from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Baba ghanoush from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Falafel from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Kibbeh from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Kanafeh dessert from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Hummus from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • The menu cover at Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Tabbouleh salad from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Falafel burger from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Kabob plate from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Turkish coffee from Famous Falafel in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

Sunday, April 02, 2017 1:00 am

Mideast fare with unique twist sure to please

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Famous Falafel

***

Out of a possible

$$

With a name like Famous Falafel and a menu that looked commercially made, I assumed the new restaurant in the Marketplace of Canterbury was a chain.

But this place that specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine was the first of its kind, I was told. So how is that falafel famous, exactly?

“Well, we are hoping it will be,” an employee told me.

The falafel was good and its unique recipe could make it famous. What separated it from the norm was the addition of finely diced jalapeņos, which gave it a touch of heat. That heat was not too strong for even a timid palate and, though odd, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The regular falafel, two-inch circles fried until extra crisp, were great during one visit. The inside was moist and creamy and they were great when slathered with some of Famous Falafel's hummus, which was perfect every time I visited. During another visit, the interior of the falafel was a little too dry and mealy, and I didn't detect much of the jalapeņo.

According to a manager, the amount of jalapeņos can vary a bit depending on how it is mixed and because it is made fresh daily.

The best way to enjoy this falafel was through the Falafel Burger, which featured a thick, hamburger-sized patty of it stuffed between a standard burger bun with lettuce, tomatoes, a pickled turnip slaw and a smear of tahini sauce. It was fantastic, and I loved the vinegar bite the bright pink turnips provided.

The real stars at Famous Falafel were the beef and chicken kaftas and the lamb and beef kabob. The best way to sample a variety of them is through one of the restaurant's family plates, which include sides.

These ground meat skewers were all deftly seasoned with Arabic spices and all top notch. The chicken was the biggest surprise as it was very juicy. I could taste the lamb in the lamb-beef combo, but it was mild and reminded me of gyro meat.

The chicken and steak shish kabobs at Famous Falafel were also tasty. The chunks of meat were nicely seasoned and they, too, were juicy. The shawarmas were not.

The chicken was the better of the two as it had a nice lemony zing to it. It was a tad dry but not near as dry as the beef, which reminded me a of day-old, bad pot roast. The beef also did not have the same vibrant mix of herbs and spices.

I was eager to try one of my favorite Mideastern dishes, kibbeh, and, like the falafel, found it to be a bit different from the norm. Famous Falafel's version of this football-shaped, fried bulgur wheat sphere filled with seasoned ground beef had a thinner layer of the wheat mixture on the outside and the meat inside was a bit chewier than I am used to. Regardless, the flavor was good and I enjoyed every bite.

What I did not enjoy was the absence of one condiment – tzatziki. Though it is Greek in origin, it would not have been out of place here and would have been welcome as I love having it with falafel and kibbeh. I was offered tahini as a dipping sauce, but it didn't fill the void. I was told they were working on adding it soon as others have asked for it.

Also, beware of the garlic sauce that is offered with some of the chicken dishes. It is basically pureed and whipped raw garlic. It packs an insane garlic punch that will not only kill your taste buds, it will kill your chances of anyone wanting to get close to you after you eat it.

A couple of other sides were must-haves, as they were great when scooped up with some of the restaurant's fresh-tasting pitas or when smeared on about anything. The baba ghanoush was blended until very smooth like the hummus and had a sort of nutty hint in addition to the smoky eggplant flavor. The tabbouleh salad made of minced wheat, parsley, tomatoes and onions with a hint of mint and a lemony dressing was bright and vibrant.

The only side I did not approve of was the grape leaves. Famous Falafel offers them with rice or meat filling and serves the rice versions hot or cold. I ordered both and asked for the rice ones cold. I received no meat-filled leaves and all of the rice ones were warm.

I had no issues with the desserts. The best was the unique Famous Pudding – a firm, milky, lightly sweetened custard that sort of reminded me of Greek yogurt topped with pistachio dust.

The kanafeh is a must-try, and you must order it early in your visit as it takes about 20 minutes to prepare. Thread-like strips of shredded wheat that are made bright orange with food coloring rest atop an almost flavorless soft white cheese and a layer of cream. A super sweet, clear, watery syrup is provided on the side to pour over the rather savory concoction. The result is a crunchy, creamy, sweet, delectable meal-ender.

Regardless of which dessert you get, have a Turkish coffee with it. The super strong brew is fantastic, and I loved it so much I struggled to stop drinking it even when I reached the bottom of the cup where the silty grounds rested.

If coffee is not your thing, the smoothies were also worth getting. My favorite was the Lemon Crush. It had pucker-inducing sour notes from its orange and lemon juice, and a funky perfume-like aroma from the added touch of rose water.

The service at Famous Falafel went from terrible to splendid between my visits. During my first meal, the staff was slow, did not know the menu and spent a lot of time bickering with each other in the dining room in front of customers. During my latest visit, none of those fighting faces were there and I did not want or need for anything.

The atmosphere is decent but not inspiring. This spot that was once a coffee shop and then a barbecue joint has somewhat limited seating, but there is a nice secluded giant booth in the back that provides the most intimacy.

Restaurant: Famous Falafel

Address: 5755 St. Joe Road

Phone: 492-8349

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Mideastern

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Tabbouleh ($4.99), hummus ($3.99), baba ghanoush ($3.99), falafel ($4.99 for 6; $7.99 for 12), Falafel Burger ($6.99), kabob plates ($13.99), kafta plates ($12.99), Famous Pudding ($2.49), kanafeh ($3.99), Turkish coffee ($1.99), smoothies ($3.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.