206 N. Linn Street, Iowa City, IA
QISA (3.5, 3, 3, 3), $4-8, Vegetarian-Friendly
I love falafel. I love everything about them: the warming spices, the pita bread encasing them, the myriad of sauces, and the nearly infinite possibility of toppings. I especially love the look on peoples' faces when I drizzle hot sauce over an already spicy blend of fried chickpeas, cumin, pepper, and magic.
Needless to say, I take my falafel very seriously. I have very, very little tolerance for falafel poorly done.
Iowa City, early January, on one of the coldest days of the year provided me a great day to eat falafel. It was also a good day to test out Iowa City’s newest falafel restaurant Oasis. If the falafel balls didn’t satisfy on a blistery, blustery cold day like this, they would never, ever satisfy.
Oasis was started in 2004 by two Israeli ex pats, friends Naftaly Stramer and Ofer Sivan, who lamented at the time, “falafel was nowhere to be found and vowed to right this wrong.” The fact that one had just left the tech industry and the other had just completed a degree in engineering certainly makes for an unlikely culinary origin story, but I fully understand their passion and drive. If I had any entrepreneurial spirit and risk tolerance, I would take over Indiana with an army of falafel stands and push for nationwide domination of the fast casual restaurant segment. But I digress.
The falafel sandwich and fries called to me; correction, they demanded my attention. I ordered the platter with no consideration for my feeble attempt at dieting. The falafel was served in standard pita with hummus and cucumber salad. The condiments bar included green cabbage salad with caraway and carrots, red cabbage salad, pepperoncinis, tahini, and green hot sauce. I selected most of the available options to decorate my sandwich. The falafel were good, solid, and serviceable. They were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and flavorful without too much heat or salt. I would definitely order them again. I would also tell my diet to take a flying leap and order the fries again, which were fresh, crispy, and cut to a medium thickness.
The owners of Oasis understand that even in a college town, they must educate an unenlightened public. Their Website contains a Cuisine Guide with pictures and descriptions of falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, madjadra, cous cous, tabouli, kebabs, baklava, and the other delicacies possibly foreign to the Iowa plains.
The restaurant is not perfect. For example, their regular coffee was bad to mediocre at best, and did nothing for my interest in the Wake Up Iowa City brand. It is possible that their Turkish coffee is a different animal altogether, but unfortunately I can’t speak to that.
However, the small restaurant has a personal feel, from its small size, to the cartoony mural on the kitchen blackboard, to the Credence Clearwater Revival music on the loudspeaker. If you are in downtown Iowa City, definitely pay them a visit. But you might suggest they clean out their coffee pot while you are there.
ONE LAST THING:
This is probably as good a time as any to stand on my soapbox and tell America that they are mispronouncing “hummus”. According to both Dictionary.com and the Merriam-Webster dictionary, not to mention every Middle-Easterner I have ever met, the word is pronounced ‘hə-məs’ or ‘hu̇-məs’, but definitely not ‘huh-məs’. This is important. Get it right. It galls me that a major hummus brand in the U.S. (yes, Sabra, you know who you are) mispronounces their own product in their own television commercials. Imagine if you will, Dorito’s pronouncing the ‘l’ in tortilla chips. Go on, imagine it. Imagine a commercial with a hot male twenty-something with blond wavy hair telling you in his hip lingo about how cool you could be if only you would try their chip, how chicks would dig you, how the flavor would blow you away, how your credit rating would improve. And then he pronounces the ‘l’.
Like nails on a chalkboard. Welcome to my world.