Middle Eastern on Washtenaw
The Usmans are natives of Haifa, Israel, and the name explains what distinguishes their place from its Middle Eastern counterparts. Compared to the familiar dense, hockey-puck-shaped falafel, Haifa-style falafel are lighter, smaller, and rounder-deep-fried golden orbs of ground chickpeas. What sets all of their sandwiches apart are the dozen or so condiments and sauces available to customize them. Options include chopped romaine lettuce, shredded cabbage, pickles, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, and five sauces. There's also a choice of breads-a standard pita split and stuffed, or a flour tortilla. When I asked Usman how the tortilla crept into a kitchen that was so big on authenticity, he explained they were trying to approximate laffah. According to cookbook writer Paula Wolfert, laffah is difficult to replicate outside the Middle East, since it requires a taboon, a tandoor-like oven. In spirit, if not in name, the Usmans' tortilla does fit into the myriad of Middle Eastern flatbreads-and when I tried a shawarma wrapped in it, the effect was surprisingly good.
Order your falafel sandwich "Haifa-style" and it comes garnished with cabbage, lettuce, garlic sauce, pickles, and spicy, tomato-based Haifa sauce (it's their mother's recipe, and no, they won't share it). The sandwich was tasty, interesting, and had a consistency that evolved-the falafel got a little squishy by mid-¬sandwich, almost like a warm chickpea puree with a bit of crunch to it. On my next visit, I had a messily delicious chicken shawarma with creamy garlic sauce and a tangy pickle on the aforementioned tortilla.
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