Falafel Kitchen brings excellent Middle Eastern flavors to the North Market Bridge Park
The family behind Grandview’s Mazah Mediterranean Eatery notches a successful expansion into Dublin
There’s a great reason why my latest meal featuring Levantine cuisine (foods frequently associated with the Middle East) made me smile as much as the first Levantine-style meal I ever had in Columbus: Both were created with Ailabouni family recipes.
You might know of the Ailabouni clan from Mazah Mediterranean Eatery, a standout Grandview establishment that’s been serving for about a decade. But the family’s restaurant roots go back decades more to the place where I had my first taste of such food in Columbus — Sinbad’s, a landmark Old North business that was among the first area eateries to offer hummus, falafel and baba ghanoush.
You can get those same delicious dishes — and you should — at the newest Ailabouni family restaurant, and the place that prepared my latest meal of Levantine classics, Falafel Kitchen in the Bridge Park North Market.
Occupying a friendly stall with bright purple lettering, Falafel Kitchen could’ve been called “Mazah Express,” since it serves Mazah-mirroring food from a counter beneath a chalkboard menu arranged into three easy-to-negotiate sections: falafel, chicken shawarma, dips and salads.
While that menu might be in flux (I was told that items such as kefta and mujadara could be added soon, if only as rotating specials) the veggie-heavy menu’s basic structure seems designed to encourage diners to play mix-and-match with a lineup of terrific components.
These include: the namesake, hefty and zesty, dome-shaped falafel, whose appealingly coarse, crackly and golden-brown exteriors lead to verdant interiors prudently enlivened by garlic and cilantro; hunks of fragrant and distinct chicken shawarma made of currylike, turmeric-tinted breast meat that was firm but not tough; soulful hummus with a creamy richness cut by just enough lemon juice; top-notch, smoky, smooth and tangy baba ghanoush; a garlicky and alluringly acidic potato salad assembled with red spuds; plus a colorful and refreshing mayo-free slaw.
The eatery’s multiple presentations of its delicious falafel and chicken shawarma usually include tahini sauce, spicy, salsa-like shatta (think Turkish ezme meets Indian mixed pickle) and puffy pita bread. You can’t go wrong with any of the combos — even the deceptively titled “just falafel & house pickles” ($8) impressed with its medley of briny vegetables, sauces and filling six falafel.
But the best deals here are pre-designed. buffet-like meals that combine falafel or shawarma with superior house-pickled turnips, plus a bounty of splendid sides that include hummus, baba ghanoush, house slaw and potato salad. Two such bonanzas are offered: the Kitchen Sampler with three pieces of falafel ($12); and the Chicken Sampler ($15), with abundant shawarma meat.
Either sampler can be dinner for two, especially by adding extras such as: Falafel Kitchen’s stellar tzatziki ($5.50); a chopped Greek salad ($4.50) distinguished by creamy Bulgarian feta, kalamata olives and a perky red-pepper dressing; or hearty and peppery red lentil soup ($4) enhanced by mirepoix and pureed potatoes.
Another dinner-for-two, cost-cutting strategy is to incorporate a sampler with some of the eatery’s fine, bakery-style goods, such as aromatic za’atar bread ($5), cheese manakish (nicely seasoned flatbread embellished with cheeses, also $5) or the highly recommended spinach fatayer ($7) — a big and puffy cooked-onion-boosted pastry wonderfully brightened by sumac.
The garnish-happy, flavor-bomb pita pocket sandwiches are likewise excellent-tasting (the falafel pocket is $9.50; the chicken pocket is $12). Loaded with hummus, slaw, pickled veggies, romaine lettuce and Jerusalem salad, these immensities can become multiple meals, too — especially if you add the crispy za’atar fries ($4 extra; mine were delicious but salty). Be forewarned: These will likely be gloriously messy, structurally unsound meals you might want to eat wearing a bib.
You won’t need a bib to consume Falafel Kitchen’s various iterations of baklava ($2.50). But you will need numerous napkins to blot up the syrup glistening from your smiling face.
Falafel Kitchen, North Market Bridge Park
6750 Longshore Dr., Dublin
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.