Chickpeas will cheer you up

Sizing up the falafel around campus

by Grant Tillery

Despite its humble origin as a street snack, falafel has a cosmopolitan zing in its ever-meaty bite. Funny, because falafel is an entirely vegetarian dish made of ground chickpeas. The heft of the chickpeas and their deep-fried crunch sometimes confuse diners about the falafel’s meatless status.

Though deep fried, falafel is extremely healthy. Each ball contains about 60 calories, so you can feast on them without serious repercussions. To begin, there are several Middle Eastern restaurants near campus that dish up their own iteration of green, grainy greatness.


Wally’s Falafel and Hummus

Wally’s falafel sandwich is the box-Caprice of fast-food sandwiches. It’s initially notable for its enormity, yet it packs unassuming substance. The fixings make the sandwich sing — Wally’s adorns the falafel deluxe with tender roasted eggplant and lightly fried cauliflower. Hot sauce is perfectly married with yogurt-based cucumber sauce, consummating the affair with subtly sweet, creamy heat.

The most disappointing part of the sandwich was the falafel itself. Wally’s falafel was the freshest of the bunch, and its intensely green hue was accompanied by a stronger parsley presence, taking on an almost herbal quality. Unfortunately, Wally’s errs in the composition. The falafel is exceedingly crumbly, and its subtle flavors can get lost in the vegetables.


Afro Deli

Afro Deli is the crown jewel of sorely underrated West Bank restaurants, its coniferous green brick drawing in diners as much as the aromas do. Customers keep coming back for the falafel. Though not as fresh as Wally’s, Afro Deli’s offering has the balance of spices down, with garlic to the forefront.

Afro Deli’s falafel is a better fit for a sandwich, too. The fixings are an afterthought, more generic than Wally’s carefully thought-out accoutrements. This allows the falafel to stand alone as the main attraction, and it helps that the balls are heftily composed and fried to perfection.


Abdul’s Afandy

This pint-sized storefront dishes up some of the tastiest — and most affordable — Middle Eastern food near campus. Owner Mohammad Abdul Ahmad was one of the key players in introducing Middle Eastern food to the Twin Cities and has influenced many restaurants around town, including Wally’s.

Based on the vegetarian platter, the falafel at Wally’s and Abdul’s couldn’t be more different in taste. Abdul’s falafel was the most blasé of the pack. The chickpea and garlic flavors were not pronounced, and at times, they tasted more like a boxed-mix than restaurant-grade falafel. Abdul’s falafel tastes more at home on a bed of rice and vegetables than overpowered by sauce in a sandwich — the roasted vegetables in Abdul’s vegetarian platter gave the uninspiring falafel a kick of much needed juiciness.


Foxy Falafel

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of East and West Bank, take a quick jaunt down University Avenue to Foxy Falafel, situated in the sleepy St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Though it’s not a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant, Foxy dishes up falafel sandwiches that food porn aficionados could only dream about. They are great, too, and without myriad fixings, the falafel is allowed to shine. It’s bolstered only by fresh tomatoes, cucumber and cabbage, a seemingly odd choice that adds a sensationally sour crunch.

Their Foxy Falafel is strikingly nouveau, considering it doesn’t deviate from a traditional recipe. The balls are surreally airy on the inside, and the outside crunch emulates tempura. The impeccable balance between garlic and parsley is highlighted with green tahini dipping sauce, which adds a lemony zest that sweetens the superbly strong flavors. Foxy’s falafel is also prepared using local, organic and sustainable ingredients, which is evident in its delicately firm composition and lack of grease.


The winner

Foxy Falafel’s contemporary interpretation on a classic blueprint and use of sustainable ingredients give its falafel an edge over Wally’s and Afro Deli’s versions. Abdul’s falafel lacked redeeming characteristics to topple the powers that be.