Arts and Entertainment

Cheap *ss Lunch #9: Falling for Falafel (For a Price)

Issue 7, Volume 112

By Matthew Wagman 

Cover Image

Among the holy trinity of the halal carts, falafel often ranks a distant third. Most students simply prefer chicken and lamb to chickpea fritters, and for good reason. At most of the halal carts and storefronts near Stuyvesant––or around the city for that matter––falafel is a sad, dry, and tasteless affair, and more than anything, it’s like chewing the dirt from a baseball diamond.

For this reason, Cheap *ss Lunch has never featured a single falafel dish as of yet. But now, on the corner of Church and Reade Streets, Nish Nush is a prime contender to break New York’s ages-long streak of chickpea mediocrity. Not completely unknown to Stuyvesant students, Nish Nush’s more obscure location and slightly higher (though fair) prices have thus far kept it from wider popularity. This Israeli restaurant offers a Middle Eastern fare similar to that of its halal counterparts but with a kosher label. From those culinary roots comes a menu full of familiar but vibrant options.

On the topic of options, there are four in the falafel category alone. The appropriately named “Popeye Delight” ($9.80) presents a voluminous, crumbling centerpiece of spinach and mushroom, solidly chewy, and almost awkwardly oversized. Framing the green orbs of falafel is dark, shredded spinach and a purple cabbage with a bright citrus edge, the whole affair glazed with plenty of garlic tahini. The next choice is the “Red Hot Chili” falafel (also $9.80). Marked the “spicy” option with a chili pepper printed next to its name on the menu, the actual product is only marginally peppery but with a crispy exterior that more than makes up for this lack. It’s accompanied by a traditional salad of lettuce and tomato with the lively addition of purple cabbage. The last of the four falafel sandwiches are the Classic, a reasonable option if you want to save a buck, and the Deluxe, for those who are willing to spend a dollar more to try all three options in one wrapping.

All sandwiches arrive in a thick, sturdy wheat (or marginally blander white) pita, struggling to contain the mass of falafel and salad. Whether you’re taking your order to go or staying on the streetside or indoor tables with your order in a plastic basket, every sandwich comes well-apportioned. To liven up the long march of sandwich bites, you’ll get a container of nutty, creamy tahini with a hint of garlic and a smoky, thick, throat-burning hot sauce of chunky green pepper (it’s an essential addition to put the “Red Hot” in the Red Hot Chili). If that isn’t enough, there’s also a small savory mix of pickles and olives, a tangy and fermented extra recalling the residual fragments at the bottom of a pickle jar, but pleasant nonetheless. To cap off these excellent amenities is a large stack of napkins that you will definitely need. Snag a few disposable utensils on your way out––the sandwiches are so huge and messy that they could easily be reclassified as salads by the end of the meal.

While these dishes alone would be enough to make Nish Nush a stellar restaurant, there are a ton of great options other than falafel in just the sandwich section, the best of which is the Cauliflower Sabich. Priced at $10.89, it is a veritable rainbow of ingredients tucked into a pita. Biting into this treasure trove takes you from a crunchy light green lettuce mixture to tart purple onion corkscrews, golden brown cauliflower, and finally, slices of hard-boiled egg, stained red at the edges by tongue-prickling harissa caught in its crumbly folds. The cauliflower has been fried in a hot oil bath which brings out a rich umami flavor, and all the flavors and textures of the sandwich complement each other perfectly, with the haphazard composition that makes some bits more rewarding than others. In contrast, the Laffa Ballade is a much more uniform experience. This interesting but less adventurous choice (and not really worth it at $13.07) is a log of thin flatbread filled with an inoffensive tabouleh salad of chopped cilantro, quinoa bits, and a conspicuous lack of tomato, moistened with lots of pleasantly sour, thick fermented sour cream-like dairy sauce.

While Nish Nush is definitely on the pricier end of Stuyvesant-area luncheries, the extra cash is well spent considering the drastic increase in quality and service. All the extra sauces, convenient seating, and decently fast service set it well apart from the surly and superficial experiences at most student frequented alternatives. The walk may be longer and the prices a bit steeper, but just one all-too-short lunch period later, you may never dream of getting chicken over rice again.