Crisp: Abomination… Or One of the Best Falafel in the City
I think I’m finally ready to go out on a limb here, and say that Crisp is one of the best falafel places in the city. That’s right. The yuppie-fied, way overpriced, unconventional falafel place (on 3rd Ave. btw. 43+44th) is serving up some of my favorite falafel in New York City. Is their bread as good as Olympic Pita (on 38th btw. 5+6th)? No. Is their menu as authentically Israeli as Azuri Cafe (on 10th Ave. and 51st). Uh… definitely not. And yet, each time I go there I really enjoy trying the strange flavor combinations they create. Sandwiches you cannot find anywhere else in NYC. And for that they deserve some recognition.
Last week, they introduced their entry into the Midtown Lunch Sandwich Challenge. The Taj: Falafel with mango chutney, lime chili pickles, greens, cherry tomatoes, poppadums, and a cold curry sauce inside a traditional Israeli pita. I tried it on Friday, and it solidified my feeling that Crisp may be one of the best Falafel places in New York City.
Ok, so here is the disclaimer: Crisp makes a standard Israeli style falafel (falafel + hummus + Israeli salad in a pita). And it’s fine. Would I take it over Olympic Pita or Azuri Cafe? No way. Never. But, outside of the standard falafel, Crisp is doing some really interesting things. And most importantly, their sandwiches are really tasty.
I wasn’t completely sold on the concept of overpriced, weird falafel combinations when I first went to Crisp last year. But I really enjoyed “The Mexican”, their falafel sandwich topped with corn salsa and avocado, smeared with a cilantro pesto that brought the whole thing together (and I don’t really even like cilantro that much.) It was interesting, albeit expensive at $7.75. But where else are you going to get something like this in NYC? Answer: Nowhere.
The second time I visited, I realized that their menu was constantly morphing… and they like to swap sandwiches in and out. Essentially, every couple of months you could show up and find something entirely new. In October my interest was piqued by “The Exotic”, an aptly named creation featuring falafel with coriander spread, eggplant, cabbage, pineapple, and wasabi vinaigrette. How could I not? I love sweet and salty and spicy, so I was kind of into this. As weird as the flavors were together, they kind of fit- and it made me realize that whoever was the Chef behind the creations, at least knew what they were doing enough to pull something like this off.
Which brings us to the Taj. The Mexican is good, and the exotic was a weird kind of good… but the Taj has now sealed the deal for me. You find tons of chickpeas in Indian food (falafel is made of chickpeas) and being so close to the Middle East, they share alot of the same spices… so in a lot of ways this flavor combo is a no-brainer with falafel. And yet, I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere. I loved the spicy, curry flavor mixed with the sweet mango chutney… the poppadoms didn’t really hold up so well in such a wet sandwich, and in the end are not really necessary, since the falafel itself is already crunchy. But being the kind of person who in junior high stuffed his sandwiches with chips, I appreciate the attempt. I could take or leave the lettuce and tomatoes, but they added some lightness, and weren’t terrible.
Finally, it came with a “cold curry sauce” which really should just be named “cold yogurt sauce”. Semantics aside, it provided the perfect cool, creamy balance to the strong flavors of the sandwich. If you don’t like Indian flavors, or mango chutney you are not going to like this sandwich (obviously), but if you do, it is completely worth the $7.75. Don’t look for it on the menu though… the Midtown Lunch special is listed on their flat screen TV.
As for our old friend “The Exotic”, it has been replaced with “The Africa”, which I decided I also had to try. It features falafel topped with north African peanut sauce, sweet potatoes, corn salad, cherry tomatoes, green onions, and a habanero harrissa. I don’t know if it was because of the Taj, but I couldn’t really detect too much spiciness from the smoked red pepper/habanero paste… but that might be my only complaint. I loved the peanut sauce and the thinly sliced sweet potatoes- which might have been soggy sweet potato chips… I’m not sure. But either way it was good. Another winner from the mad scientist kitchen of Crisp. Not sure how long they’ll offer this one… but I’m kind of excited to see what they come up with next.
As for the falafel themselves, they are tasty Israeli style falafels. Not too dry, and not too dense. It’s hard to argue about “authenticity”, because the owner has a successful chain of similar falafel places in Israel. And, to top it off they’ve heard our complaint about the prices. On Friday Crisp lowered prices of some of their items, and the $10 and $11 sandwiches that were on the menu when they first opened are gone. The most expensive sandwich is now $8.75, although the Mexican is still $7.75. Expensive for a falafel? Yes. But it is one tasty sandwich. They also have falafel and hummus platters, but those are too much like salads for me to be interested in.
I could have easily bitched about Crisp, and I think a lot of the readers of this site would have backed me up. This whole post could have been one long complaint about how lame this place is- trying to pass off these weird falafels as “gourmet” and charging an arm and a leg for the privilege. The stupidity of calling them handbags… and their lame, and unnecessary packaging. But that would do a huge disservice to the food being put out at Crisp, which right now is making some of the most delicious and interesting sandwiches in the city. Whether you want to consider them “falafel” or not, is entirely up to you.
Crisp, 684 3rd Ave. (btw. 43+44th), 212…