The Halal Guys

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Halal guys plate

If you've ever been to New York City and wandered around the area of 6th Avenue and West 53d Street -- and as a tourist, there's a pretty good chance you have since it's in the area of Rockefeller Center and the corner that the New York Hilton is on -- you've undoubtedly seen an omnipresent food stand there where meats and onions are cooked on a griddle day and night and mounded in a corner of the hot surface awaiting customers.

You may have even ordered a pita sandwich there. I did, many, many years ago, on one of my early visits to the city, while attending a convention, at the Hilton, in fact, in the days before I became a food writer. It was convenient, and cheap, especially for New York, and for someone unfamiliar with the city an easy and unintimidating choice.

I'm sure at the time I thought I was experiencing real New York food.

Hubbly Bubbly Falafel Shop Downtown

Written by Scott Joseph on .

hubblybubbly sandwich

Vast improvements have been made between the opening of the first Hubbly Bubbly Falafel Shop, in College Park, and the second, in downtown Orlando. Of course, more than three and a half years passed between the two, so you'd expect a learning curve of sorts. And as I detailed in my review of the prototype shop in September of 2013, up was really the only way to go.

I haven't been back to the Edgewater Drive location since then, but I'll assume they've made the changes that made the falafel sandwich I had at the new location so enjoyable.

And I have to say that only a week before trying the new HB, I visited my favorite falafel shop in the world, L'As du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers in Paris.

And while Hubbly's falafel sandwich doesn't quite match the culinary experience that is a l'As du Fallafel falafel -- heck, neither do any of the other falafel shops that have popped up on that small street in the Marais -- it was good enough that I can now recommend it.

Oh My Gyro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Oh My Gyro exterior

Lots of people are all aflutter about a certain New York street food vendor coming to town. We’ll talk about that soon. But if you’re one of those longing for the kind of food prepared on a street-corner griddle, Oh My Gyro might be your kind of place.

In fact, in its Facebook description, it says that it serves “authentic New York Halal Cart Food.” Halal, of course, refers to meat prepared under the strictures of Muslim law. Sort of a Muslim equivalent of kosher.

Oh My Gyro gets its name from the web shorthand of OMG, which actually means oh my god. Not sure Oh My Gyro works as an expletive, but we’ll go with it.

Yemeni Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Yemeni Kitchen table

Ramadan mubarak.

It seemed fitting to plan a visit to Yemeni Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Kissimmee, during Ramadan, the holy month observed by Muslims worldwide. The Republic of Yemen is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, and a restaurant in Central Florida dedicated to its food was a worthwhile trek.

It might seem odd to plan a visit to a Middle Eastern restaurant during Ramadan, during which one of the more well-known observances involves fasting. But that’s only from sunrise to sundown.

And that explains the handwritten note on the front door of Yemeni Kitchen announcing the start of the evening’s buffet: precisely at 8:19, the official time of sunset. And not a moment sooner.

Zora Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zora dining room

I’ve written a few times about the sixth sense that a critic develops over time, that feeling that you get when you walk into an unfamiliar restaurant and a voice in the back of your mind that says — no, screams — run!

But there’s a diametrical feeling — a seventh sense? — where you enter a restaurant and you know immediately that you’re going to like it. That’s the feeling I got when I walked into Zora Grille in Altamonte Springs recently. Just for a moment, I had that niggling feeling that something might be off. Perhaps it was the fact that the place had no customers even though it was the height of the lunch hour.

But the aromas of the charcoal grill in the back of the open kitchen soon enveloped me. And almost as immediately a young man stepped forward with a warm and genuine welcome. I took a seat.

Paramount

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Paramount falafel

Paramount Fine Foods is such a grand name for what is essentially a fast food restaurant. Quick serve at most.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s the name. I’ve also seen it refer to itself in various places at Paramount Middle Eastern Cuisine and Paramount Lebanese Kitchen.

Whatever, Paramount is a Middle Eastern eatery out of Ontario, Canada, that has recently moved into the United States with its U.S. headquarters on International Drive. A location there has been open for a while, but I stopped in to the newest store near UCF to give it a try.

Moroccan Breeze

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Moroccanbreeze exterior

Moroccan Breeze certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

I had, um, gotten wind of Breeze as a newly opened restaurant in South Orlando. But when my Google Maps app led me to the address on South Orange Blossom Trail, a strip mall anchored by the Apna Bazaar, the restaurant was nowhere in sight. I wondered if the signage on one of the eateries just hadn’t been changed to reflect new ownership. I also hoped that wasn’t the case because they looked pretty bedraggled. So I called the phone number for Moroccan Breeze and the gentleman who answered told me that he was located inside the Bazaar. So in I went.

Moroccan Breeze was located at the back of the building in a sort of minimalist food court, a couple of food vendors, including an Indian cafe next door, and a scattering of tables and chairs for customers to eat at. Just off to the side of the food court were the restrooms, designated for men and women, and prayer rooms, also so delineated.

Cedar Halal Food and Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cedar halal interior

I was sure I had happened upon a new restaurant when I walked into Cedar Halal Food and Deli in East Orlando. It was a real find, and something that was needed on the east side of town: a good, non-chain place with ethnic food. But when I was paying my bill for my lunch I asked the fellow who took the money how long the restaurant had been open.

Eight years.

So much for cutting edge. It has a Myspace page, for crying out loud.

But I’m happy I found it now, and to share the not-so-new news with those of you who were just as uninformed as I.

Hubbly Bubbly Falafel Shop

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hubbly

I love a good falafel sandwich. The splash screen of my phone is a photo of me holding my favorite one from a vendor in Paris. Recently I wrote about two Middle Eastern restaurants where I chose the falafel sandwich as my entree rather than one of their other offerings.

So I was excited when I started to see signs that a new falafel shop would open in the former Blackwater Barbecue space on Edgewater Drive in College Park. Hubbly Bubbly opened last weekend, but it may want to consider closing down for a while and reorganizing. (I say reorganize as if there was any organization to begin with, but we’ll just let that stand.)

First of all, no, I don’t know what the name Hubbly Bubbly has to do with falafels. Frankly, it makes me think of one of the boba tea places that serve tapioca pearls in their drinks. (Is that fad over yet? Please?) If there is a logic to it, that explanation is not shared with us either on the website or the menu.

In fact very little information is shared in either of those places, and even less at the shop. So, for the uninitiated, let’s start with some information. A falafel is a sort of fritter fashioned out of ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans, if you prefer) and deep fried. They can be round balls, they can be flattened disks. The word falafel has also come to mean the sandwich device wherein the fritters are contained. The bread for the sandwich might be a pita pocket or a lavosh or similar flatbread. Therein are piled any combination of such items as hummus, tomatoes, onions, tabouli and sauce, such as tzatziki.

Two Falafels: Mediterranean Deli & Gyros and Middle East Market & Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Middle East MarketThe falafel, plus a spinach pie, at Middle East Market.

I was really disappointed that my favorite falafel place, L’As du Fallafel, wasn’t open when I went by on a recent trip to Paris. (And, yes, I understand that that qualifies as a first-world disappointment.)

las du fallafelMy sandwich at L'As du Fallafel in Paris during a visit in 2010.Maybe that’s why I’ve had a hankering for a falafel sandwich lately. When I visited two Middle Eastern eateries lately, that was the only thing on the menus that I considered ordering. I don’t know why, but there’s something about those deep-fried chickpea balls that I love.

The first place I stopped was Mediterranean Deli & Gyros. The & Gyros is meant to distinguish it from Mediterranean Deli, which I told you about here. The two restaurants aren’t related, but their owners are -- they’re brothers.

If I hadn’t known that going in I probably would have guessed it from the warm greeting I received. But I’ll come back to that.