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Mediterranean Bakery and Sandwich, Atlanta

Notice something different? This week our international foods expert Gene Lee will start covering his beat in a different way. Instead of writing starred reviews, Gene will instead use this space to explore specific examples in greater depth. This change will give Gene the opportunity to better scour the metro area – from mom-and-pop storefronts to upscale restaurants – as he searches out those global dishes that make Atlanta such an interesting place to explore. Here’s his first report on the sublime falafel at Mediterranean Bakery and Sandwich. We hope you enjoy this change.

Feature by Gene Lee

Feature by Gene Lee

There are many dishes to like at Mediterranean Bakery and Sandwich, and there are certainly a lot to try. The takeout-grocery store’s deeply flavored chicken shawarma sandwich ($5.99) tightly rolled in lavash (flat bread) that has been smeared with a pungent white garlic sauce is easily a favorite of mine. And the grilled lamb kabob halabi platter ($9.99) served on a bed of loose, buttery rice with two sides satisfies a meat-and-three craving and is not as heavy as it sounds. But it’s the siren call of the bakery’s falafel that makes me pass by some of my regular Buford Highway spots.

The falafel is one of the most democratic of foods. Restaurants, street vendors and even gas stations all over the Middle East hawk this cheap snack, which is as omnipresent as hot dogs are in America. Its origin is hazy, but the generally accepted notion is that Egypt begat the falafel. High in protein and fiber, falafel is commonly made with ground chickpeas or fava beans, and in some cases — like the Lebanese version at Mediterranean Bakery — it is a combination of both.

Worker uses an aleb falafel to drop batter into oil (photos by Gene Lee)

Worker uses an aleb falafel to drop batter into oil (photos by Gene Lee)

The restaurant’s falafel cooking station — a beguiling and boxy gas-powered contraption fitted with a wide wok-like pan on top — sits in plain view alongside shawarma trompos (upright rotisseries) of beef and chicken. Perched at a nearby table, I watch Ramez Traboulsi, one of the restaurant’s falafel makers, scoop up the grainy mixture and shape small spheres with an aleb falafel (another intriguing device that resembles an ice cream scoop) and by utilizing rapid whittling motions with a spoon. One by one, Traboulsi then gently lays formed falafel balls into heated canola oil, flips them once after a few minutes, and then after a few minutes more removes and rests them against a circular rack attached to the cooking pan.

Falafels rest after frying

Falafels rest after frying

You can order falafel individually as a side item (50 cents), in a sandwich ($5.49) wrapped with the restaurant’s toothsome lavash , or deconstructed into a platter ($6.99) with your choice of two sides (hummus, stuffed grape leaves or a selection of Mediterranean salads to name a few). A thick, tangy tahini (sesame) dipping sauce always comes with any falafel order; it’s nutty, kefir-like similarities induce an inner desire to drink it on its own like the fermented milk.

In appearance, falafels are a light shade of golden brown and are studded with off-white flecks of fava bean. A batch right out of the fryer holds a crunchy exterior and a hot steamy inside, which is neither too gooey nor too dry. If it sits too long waiting to be served, it can lose its crunch.

the finished product: a falafel sandwich you won't forget

the finished product: a falafel sandwich you won't forget

“My falafel is not a special recipe,” owner Bassam Monzer tells me. “It’s a pretty typical Lebanese recipe made with 12 ingredients and spices.” Monzer is secretive about the exact ingredients, but I taste the usual musky suspects of cumin and coriander along with a touch of heat from finely ground pepper.

Monzer’s falafel recipe may not be a special, but it tastes pretty good to me.

MEDITERRANEAN BAKERY AND SANDWICH
3362 Chamblee-Tucker Road, Atlanta ; 770-220-0706
Food: casual and healthy Mediterranean dishes with a Lebanese twist
Service: Order at the counter and clear your own table when you’re done.
Vegetarian selections: a few salads, falafel platter or sandwich and a huge meze  platter with the usual Mediterranean dishes (grape leaves, baba ghanoush , hummus)
Price range: $
Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays
Children: yes
Parking: in lot
Reservations: no
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes

12 comments Add your comment

Mark

September 8th, 2011
8:04 am

No stars. Awesome.

Barbara

September 8th, 2011
9:56 am

Very interesting. Everytime I go here I try something different and every time I have been disappointed. I have not tried the falafel though, I am going to keep on trying. It is very close to my house and I have heard many positive things. I guess I just keep ordering the wrong things.

MLBDolie

September 8th, 2011
10:17 am

It’s good to see that Gene got put on “star probation” after his last review.

MLBDolie

September 8th, 2011
10:20 am

Sorry, in looking back I realize that it was Jon who gave the pizza place three stars, not Gene. My apologies, Gene.

jimmy

September 8th, 2011
11:09 am

Loved this place when I lived nearby in college. The hummus was thick with tahini and I still crave the parsley rich tabbouleh salad.

Zack E

September 8th, 2011
12:46 pm

Glad you enjoyed it!

michael

September 9th, 2011
12:19 pm

When I worked in Tucker I would go here for lunch specifically for the falafel sandwich. Man, I miss it.

TuckerMama

September 9th, 2011
12:28 pm

We live nearby and my husband and I often split the Kabab Dinner for Two which is fantastic. It comes with chicken, beef, and lamb kababs along with the delicious rice, hummus and pita, falafel, grape leaves (which I hate in general, but my husband thinks these are very good), a choice of fatoush (my fave) or tabouli (theirs is excellently fresh every time), pickles, fresh tomatoes, and another unidentified salad (it’s pink!). Oh yeah…and two slices of baklava. It’s all delicious and is usually enough for dinner plus lunch the next day for two adults.

Fire Frank Wren

September 9th, 2011
1:10 pm

The AJC must have gotten a threat of a lawsuit over some 1-star rating they gave to a restaurant.

good ole boy

September 9th, 2011
2:17 pm

Ali Babas downtown is better. Much better.

th

September 9th, 2011
2:18 pm

Looking forward to having a falafel sandwich once I finish my 21 day challenge diet!!

smitty

September 10th, 2011
6:39 am

Chicken shawarma and falafel platter with hummus and tabbouleh is a perfect dinner for two. I’m a red meat man and order the chicken shawarma every single time now, extra garlic sauce. The flavors cater to Lebanese tastes. For some, the hummus will taste too pungently of tahini and lemon. I buy the yogurt drink by the half gallon. Its flavor is quite interesting as well.

All the Lebanese people I know go here.