Falafels is a small Middle Eastern eatery on Kirkwood. They opened in March of 2003, and have been a downtown staple ever since. The decor is quirky and authentic at the same time, with bright whimsical colors and an exceptionally comfortable atmosphere.
The menu at Falafels is defined by simple rustic food in the $6-12 dollar range. They are probably best known for their pita sandwiches. The meats are either cooked to order, or constantly cooked on a spit, and basted with traditional seasonings. The sandwiches range in price from the $3.45 Halfalafel to the $7.99 lamb kabob sandwich. These offerings are ideal for a quick lunch, and often come with a free side if you catch the right weekly lunch special. There are also several appetizers and entrees appropriate to a full sit down dinner experience.
The ambiance in Falafels is delightfully pleasant and comfortable. The chairs and tables are all solid wood, and everything is brightly colored without clashing. The decorations are simple authentic pieces from Israel, and if you have any questions about the origins of the menu you only have to look at the photograph of the original owner hanging up as you walk into the establishment. It is a black and white photo of him as a child in Israel. You can't get any closer to the roots of Jerusalem in Bloomington that this restaurant (Unless you know a nice Israeli grandmother, and if you can hook me up with some of that schwarma I can make it worth your while).
I went to Falafels on the last day before the Thanksgiving holiday with a friend and they were offering all of their sandwiches at half price in order to clean out their stock of perishables before having to close for the holiday. Due to the exceptionally good pricing we decided to splurge and each ordered a schwarma sandwich, split a plate of grilled asparagus, and had baklava for dessert. It was the most extravagant and affordable lunch I've had in months. First they brought us 2 grilled pitas with herbed olive oil and a slightly spicy red sauce to dip the bread in. This is pure empty carbs, an affront to any diet, and I have never cared. Sadly the pita does not come as delectably charred as it once did. The original owner was also the main cook, now there are several cooks that work the restaurant at different times, and many of them don't push the pita as far on the grill as I would like. That said it's impossible to messup this starter. The sauces are delightful and the fresh pita, even if not crisp around the edges has a special kind of warmth, as they make their bread in house, and let me tell you the quality shows in the final product.
Next the waitress brought us the grilled asparagus. I have never been a big fan of asparagus. My parents tended to boil all vegetables when I was young, and asparagus just never sat well with me boiled and buttered. This asparagus was grilled, and coated in a delicate layer of olive oil, herbs, and goodness. There was no astringent after taste, and the char was just enough to make the food feel well treated, but not so much that it tasted burned. It was fun to eat, and just enough to satisfy two. The only reservation I have about this particular dish is that they obviously did not cut off the bottom of the stalks, so while munching on a spear you would randomly find yourself eating something that tasted a bit like it was cut off the bottom branch of a bush, and you certainly couldn't bite through it. It was easy enough to discard this part of the vegetable, and given the incredibly quality of the edible part of the plant I didn't really mind, but I would have preferred it if the bottoms of the asparagus had been properly trimmed before grilling.
The sandwiches were delightful. I had the chicken schwarma which is cooked on a spit and then carved off as sandwiches are ordered. I do not know what is used to season the meat, but I have a horrid addiction to it. The meat is carefully browned, to develop the height of chicken flavor, while still being succulent. This is no small feat as I believe the use all white meat for this dish. The lettuce is crisp, but thankfully not iceberg. The sandwich also includes hummus, spread along the side of the pita, and it makes the entire experience. I always ask for extra tahini and hot sauce when I order any sandwich there, and they completely re-define the experience. While the toppings are an amazing touch, and I highly recommend experimenting with them on Wednesdays when they come free with the lunch special the hot sauce and tahini on any of the sandwiches make for an amazing food experience.
We finished the meal with a couple small pieces of baklava. This came to us free because they were out of the other desserts we wanted to order. Normally I would think very poorly of a restaurant that had critical menu items out of stock, but they were trying to clear out food before break, so it is to be expected, and they took steps to make sure we were satisfied as customers. The waitress was very accommodating and the fact that she was empowered to offer us the baklava for free says a lot about the management's relationship with their servers, their trust in their employees on the whole, and the sorts of customer service focused choices they encourage. The baklava itself was delightful. It was tender, moist, and flavorful. The perfect bite or two of sweetness to end a meal, though the top could have been slightly more browned. Really though, this part of the meal won Falafels far more service points than food points.
On the whole Falafels is an excellent restaurant, with very reasonable prices. The decor is slightly rough around the edges and feels very real and lived in when so much of Bloomington has begun to feel terribly plastic. I would recommend Falafels as a lunch joint, as a comfortable place to get together with a study group over dinner, as a casual date spot, or as a uniquely Bloomington spot to take your family when they come into town. The menu is approachable and authentic all at once, and you will feel right at home as soon as you are taken to your seat.
Ambiance: 4.5 of 5
Service: 5 of 5
Food Quality: 4 of 5
Flavor Quality: 5 of 5
Cost/Value: 5 of 5