Amsterdam Falafelshop fries up Euro-style falafel with a wink
Restaurant Review | 4.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 07:09
Do one thing, and do it well.
Whether or not Amsterdam Falafelshop is a conscious proponent of this mantra, it certainly does embody it. A mere four items grace Amsterdam’s food menu -— falafel, fritten (fries), salad bowls and “virgin” brownies — but the small Davis Square eatery more than compensates by preparing each of these items to absolute perfection.
What separates Amsterdam from the typical falafel shop is that it leaves much of the preparation of the falafel sandwich in the consumer’s hands. After you choose your size (small or regular) and pita pocket (white or wheat), Amsterdam’s “falafeliers” will toast your pita and fill it with freshly-cooked falafel balls. In terms of toppings, everything is your choice. As you stand with your falafel pocket hot in hand, you are faced with a truly overwhelming selection. From tangy garlic mayonnaise and tahini to sprigs of parsley, seasoned chick peas and a cornucopia of hot sauces, anything goes — as long as it fits in the pita. More than 20 unique accoutrements stretch between where the order takes place and the cash register, and they are all tantalizingly fresh. A sign helpfully suggests that you “crush your balls” and choose toppings that will complement each other, but the assortment remains daunting nonetheless.
Amsterdam’s drink selection of soda and lemonade is less impressive, despite the fact that they sell the ever-popular IZZE Sparkling Juice. Still, this is but a minor disappointment, as Amsterdam’s patrons come for falafel, not for beverages. Furthermore, regardless of how many garnishes you manage to stuff in your pocket, the pricing stays the same: $4.95 for a small falafel, and $5.95 for a regular one. Not bad, especially when you consider that return trips to the topping bar are permitted, so long as you don’t double dip.
It is a bit of a hassle that the falafeliers do not crush the falafel balls for you, and that there are no options specially made for dining in – all orders are wrapped street-food style in paper – but overall, the restaurant’s unconventional ordering scheme works nicely.
For eight years, Amsterdam’s founders, Scott and Arianne Bennett, have run just one Amsterdam Falafelshop location in Washington D.C. Davis Square is their second location, and the Bennetts intend to further Amsterdam’s expansion through national franchises.
Why the name, if falafel’s origins lie in the Middle East, far from the Netherlands? When questioned, an Amsterdam falafelier wryly replied, “Oh, it’s not? Well, then we’d better change our name.”
According to the falafeliers, falafel is an enormously popular street food in Amsterdam and is frequently served with the same buffet-style garnishes flaunted by Amsterdam Falafelshop. The Davis Square eatery took full advantage of these European roots when they decorated. Blood-red walls are hung with panoramic views of canals and cityscapes – and a few topless women – while kitschy memorabilia of Amsterdam’s drug and sex culture adorn the laminated tables. A post above the cash register proudly proclaims that Amsterdam accepts payment in Euros, and Euro pricing is listed next to each menu item. Even the shop’s logo –― a simple “xxx” on a red and black background ―– suggests a sensuality never found in most falafel shops. The overall effect is slightly theatrical, yes, but it does add plenty of atmosphere.
Amsterdam Falafelshop is a welcome upgrade from former occupant Diva Indian Bistro’s experimental bar and lounge, and with any luck, it will continue to prosper in Davis Square. Since its opening in July, the shop has received rave reviews and a Zagat rating.
Practically across the street from the Davis Square T stop, it is cheap, fast and healthy – and vegetarian.
There might only be a handful of menu items, but rest assured that each and every one of them has been impeccably prepared.