Carmel Haifa-- Middle eastern in Morris Plains
I finally got to this place today, and very glad I did. Having traveled in the Middle East, I have missed those flavors and foods a lot. It is completely unexpected to find this food transplanted, especially to suburban Morris County. This place is very much the real deal. A burst of warmth hits you, coming from the cooking fires when you walk in. There is charcoal blazing underneath skewers of lamb and spiced beef.
The kitchen here is far larger than the seating area-- there are only 2 small tables inside, and 1 outside. So I guess most of the food here is carry-out. It feels like a place you would find in, say---Haifa, or on a side-street in Cairo. Falaffel, shwarama, skewered lamb over rice-- this is street food. Food you might find in a small cafe, hard by the Mediterranean. It's not fancy food-- but it's got its own spicing and it has its own texture. The meats ares seared on the outside, and it is the additional sauces-- condiments-- that are going to contribute the flavor that is, according to personal taste, up to you. So how are the sauces here? Briefly, the chili-oil that is homemade and slightly hot-- is spectacular-- full of pimento, chilis, and some spice. The tahini is sweet and mildly soothing, and not heavilly flavored. The garlic sauce is tame, and does not scream garlic but rather, suggests it.
What was spectacular was the mushroom soup that was on special today--- WOW! Woodsy and creamy, simply the best mushroom soup I have ever enjoyed. The yoiung man at the counter would not let me refuse the soup-- he firmly insisted on serving me some. And I am glad he did. This stuff had the essence of mushroom, even suggested the depth and mystery of wild mushroom. Five stars on the spot, for the soup.
My companion ordered the house falaffel, and it was just wonderful. The crunch of the chickpea balls was what a good falaffel should be. Mint had been added to the chickpea-- wonderful. The salad portion-- excellent, fresh bracing. The p[ita-- perfect, floury fresh and warm. And those 2 sauces, mentioned already, just danced beautifully together. My taste being what it is, I drowned the falaffel with the hot red sauce-- and was rewarded. The falaffel here is REALLY good-- again-- the real thing. Never underestimate the difficulty or replicating real street food-- 5,000 miles away from the street where it lives.
I ordered the large combination plate, which consisted of charcoal-grilled beef, lamb, barbecued pressed lamb and chicken. All the proteins were well-cooked and the spicing, though present, was restrained. Compared to some of the racy spiciness I have enjoyed in the Middle East, this restaurant holds a little something back. The rice on the plate was rich, fluffy and very long-grained. It was wonderful, actually. And the salad was bright and full of fresh veg flavor, decently vinegared.
I will be back here again. Prices are reasonable, a full well-stuffed falaffel was $6 and my combination plate was $12-- very good value. I took home some of their home=made baclava. Sampling it, my eyes rolled back in my sockets. Pistachio and honey were made to be together, in this way, lovers working to bring out the best in each other. PRAISE BE BACLAVA.
And praise be the mushroom soup-- and everything that makes this wonderful little place another lonely outpost of real indigenous food here in old New Jersey
The family who owns this place are extremely warm and friendly. If you have never enjoyed it before, they will win you over to Palestinian street and cafe food. If you have been over there, and eaten well-- then this place will certainly bring you back. And that's a lot to ask from a place right across the street from the train station in Morris Plains, NJ.....
I had a completely different experience. I ordered a side of Baba and was given 3 pitas....then they decided to give me 3 more..still frozen and told me "10 seconds in the microwave, they'll be fine"....the falafel sandwhich was good, the chicken sandwhich was ok...the kebbeh...which was 5$ for 1!!!!!!...was still frozen on the inside...I tried this place so I didn't have to drive all the way to Paterson....after my one and only experience ...I'm going back to Paterson.