As I hobble through life with a Droid as my sole camera, it’s time for another one of my first impressions that really isn’t a first impression. Falafel King sits on the Emory campus just off the junction of Oxford and N. Decatur. Though it’s purveyors are of Korean lineage, this shack sized, spit using restaurant actually sells the oddly married cuisines of Japan (in this case sushi) and the Mediterranean. This odd mish mash of grub, combined with a distinct facade (displayed at right by babythekitten) and pocket book friendly prices, helps to draw customers from areas well beyond Emory.
In many circles, the King is treated as royalty. The reality is closer to something more understated; however, for a place that freshly pats down their chickpea mixture, they do just fine.
You can’t help but notice the shotgun building that houses Falafel King. Even when heading east on N. Decatur, the dunce cap topping will catch your eye over the other establishments. Not much wider than two or three sedan’s, the interior is lined with wall-side bar seating, two date tables, and a single rotund.
Towards the back is where you’ll find the food stand. To your left, you’ll scope out the gentleman of the house whipping up über cheap sushi options. Nothing fancy and from mid-tier suppliers, I’ve had worse. Though my last dance with this devil was well before I started spouting off, memory tells me that you could do a lot worse. The cost is around $4, but can go up to $8; it’s aggressively priced, but you get what you pay for. While not scary, if you aren’t bound by walking distance, I’d say keep moving. Otherwise, it’s “get you fix” quality. We’ll leave that be as it’s been a while for me. (hey … I rhyme!)
As your eye scans right, you’ll pick up on the chalkboard menus that cover a good bit of the food counter (and a bit of the side wall). There you’ll find the madam of the house. She sits patiently ready to handle the ordering process and the hot food prep. Please don’t accuse her of being gruff. In breaking my own rules, I’ll tell you that a previous engagement with her turned into a several minute jaunt down memory lane. Of course, my dining companion at that time was one of my Korean hombres, so I followed exactly nothing from that chatter. She seems to have a little dance about her; throughout our meal, we noticed a steady (but manageable) stream of people. Back and forth she went between the cash register, the wok, and the aforementioned spit.
Dishes were methodically turned out, but not with a great deal of speed. Service wasn’t slow, just not optimized for dishing out items. A 10-15 minute wait isn’t unreasonable or unexpected. However, they could easily hand you the same product in about 5-minutes.
Supplementing those American standards for sushi (eel, salmon, tuna, crab stick, etc…), you’ll find a few touches of ramen and udon. Mingled in, the Mediterranean grub is limited to some humus, falafel, and chicken shawarma. There are some different combinations and forms, but that’s the core of the menu. The falafel sandwiches are $4 and the shawarma and combo options come in at $6. They also come in salad form. With no drinks or sides included, the price/value is okay, perhaps 10% too high … but let’s not be critical for criticism’s sake. It’s a lot easier to swallow 10% when that equals $1 … as opposed to when it equals $10.
Being the globe trotter that I am, I went with the combination sandwich (half falafel and half shawarma) along with an order of the dumplings ($4). The dumplings themselves were pre-cooked and then reheated. They were sourced from a package so the dough was a little gummy and the filling tasted liked the low-cost minced pork and vegetables that were inside.
Both Ms. Vennerable and I partook in the combination pita. To pull off this simple little pouch of food, they take some freshly patted chickpea mixture and send them plummeting to their hot, oily death in their wok. After those made-to-order patties are fried, perhaps a little too much during our visit, three falafel balls are dropped into the bottom of the food cup. Topped with some lettuce, the next layer of the sandwich is chicken shawarma shaved straight off the spit. Then, for good measure, some more lettuce and some diced tomatoes are used to seal the package.
It eats pretty easily and the sandwich does hold together quite nicely. Given this setup, the shawarma actually keeps to itself, so you really do feel like you’re eating two half-pitas. I’m sure someone would lament the fact that they fillings don’t mingle, but seriously – don’t over think this one. Besides, I like that they are separated. The chicken itself had a nice little punch, but like its falafel buddy at the bottom, was definitely dried out. Bites went down easily and the sandwich satisfied because of what it is, not because of what people say it is. It’s straight forward and simple, but without any true highlights. The crunch was good, and the flavors fell in line, but the absence of tabouli and/or fattoush was noticeable. To pepper up my bites, I bastardized my pita with occasional squirts of Sriracha sauce (seriously, what does that stuff not go on?), or that spicy mayonnaise that’s been popularized by the everyman sushi bars that obsess our minds. When done, we bussed or own table and got back on with life.
Yes, the main draw of the place are their pitas. Most any college kid not named Sean should take comfort in this type of food. Beyond that, the mild obsession with this spot seems strange. Yes, the pita itself is fluffy and fresh … but it’s not house made. The fillings are decent, but not notable outside a 2-mile radius from Emory Village. Perhaps most importantly, the price isn’t a homerun either. My order ran me $10.15 before tip, and that seems just a smidge high for what showed up. Though its notable that I did leave satiated, and Ms. V was filled up after just a few bites, but she’s an admitted squirrel.
In Atlanta’s version of a college town, this place is (and should be) a hit. The college kids that flock here do so justifiably. As for the rest of us, it’s a nice little low-key establishment. Don’t over think it. That is, sit down, relax, and do away with your inner foodie. If you do that, you’ll leave the King as one of their newest pawns. And with that, I’ll get on with my tense changing self and get me some football!
Atlanta Foodies on Falafel King
- Creative Loafing on Falafel King (04.04.09)