Maoz Tastes Good, But Proves That The Best Falafel Pita is Built By Professionals
Maoz Vegetarian, the European build your own falafel chain with branches in Union Square, NYU, and the UWS, opened their very first Midtown location a few weeks ago (on 7th Ave. and 40th Street). There is no shortage of falafel options in Midtown, but I have always been intrigued by Maoz- especially since Serious Eats: New York named it the best falafel in Union Square. So last week I headed over to give this new addition to the Midtown Lunch scene a try.
If you’ve already been to Maoz, I’m guessing this is no different than any of the other locations. Like any chain, the operation seems pretty streamlined and I’m guessing it’s the same from place to place. I had no basis for comparison, so on this visit was just a fat guy wondering if this was going to replace any of my other go to falafel places in Midtown. I like the idea of building my own sandwich, because layering is incredibly important to me- and so many places just don’t do it right. I was kind of excited to get to give the sandwich building a go.
First things first, the place is tiny. And the register is right when you enter the door, so if you are a Maoz virgin it helps to understand a bit about the menu. You can order your falafel ala carte (for $4.95) but if you do that, items like fried eggplant and hummus are extra (a travesty if you ask me!), bringing your total closer to $7. That’s the why the combo is clearly the best deal. You get a falafel sandwich (w/ hummus and fried eggplant already included) plus a drink and french fries for $8.75 (sweet potato fries are 50 cents extra.) Part of me thinks “that’s how they getcha!”, but another part of me loves french fries and a drink. Although usually I’m too cheap to order those extras, so I always appreciate a place that offers a combo deal to make the decision easy (are you hearing this Five Guys!?!)
Once you order, you are given your drink and sandwich- which at this point is just a pita pocket with falafel, hummus, and fried eggplant. It’s up to you to add the rest. As you make your way down the veggie bar, it’s self service- so you’re given free reign over the options like beets, carrots, Israeli salad, cabbage, chick peas, and more. There is some great looking stuff, but your pita is not that large- and since the falafel balls are already inside it is incredibly difficult to layer all the items properly. Plus you’ve got your drink to worry about, and the place is already packed- so there isn’t much time to really dilly dally. At the end of the assembly line there is tahini, hot sauce, and some more sauce options to finish things off.
Once you are completely done, they’ll wrap your sandwich up for you at the end of the line and give you your fries with a bag and napkins. It’s kind of fun, and kind of terrifying.
As for the taste, I was a big fan of the falafel balls- which are the cilantro/parsley green variety- and all the toppings were good and fresh as well. The fried eggplant is a great addition, and was far better than some of the fried eggplant you get on some Israeli salad bars in Midtown. The hot sauce packs a mean punch, so be real careful when putting that on (I would recommend trying to spread it on the side of the pita if you can get down in there.)
The fries, which come in a cone, are made to look like fresh cut fries (unpeeled at the tips) but they tasted like they are probably frozen at a central location and shipped around to all the Maoz locations. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good fries and very tasty- but won’t blow your mind.
As for the concept, it’s kind of fun making your own sandwich, and I like the free reign you get at the salad bar. But in the end, the place is packed, and you don’t get a ton of time to really think about what you’re doing. Add to that the fact that the pita is really small, and it’s tough to layer everything, and you start to appreciate the system at places like Kosher Deluxe (where they give you small side plate to load up on salad.)
In other words, it all tasted good, but I feel like the true measure of a perfect Israeli falafel (after the balls themselves) is the layering. If you order a falafel in pita, the assembly makes all the difference. Watching the guy behind the counter at Azuri Cafe (on 51st and 10th) is like watching an amazing chef as conductor. Each ingredient is added in small amounts, in a very particular order, so that as you eat through the sandwich all the flavors are perfectly balanced. I’ve always felt the downfall of places like Moshe’s (on 46th and 6th) is that the layering was off. Falafel balls at the bottom, salad in the middle, and tahini poured on top means the first half of the sandwich is all tahini and salad, and the second half is all falafel.
And Maoz is no different. As hard as I tried to move the falafel balls over, and get the different veggies down in there, it proved to be very very difficult. And having the hot sauce and tahini at the end is the worst. You need hot sauce at the beginning so you can spread it along the entire inside of the pita. Otherwise your first 4 bites are super spicy, and the rest of the sandwich is mild.
All in all I did like my sandwich, and the fries and lemonade you get with the combo make it completely worth $9. The food tasted good, and I will definitely be back. But Maoz also makes you more appreciative of the salad bar at places like Kosher Deluxe and Baraca (formerly Olympic Pita), and opens your eyes to how much skill it takes to make a truly perfect falafel sandwich.
- You get to build your own sandwich, and I love complete control!
- They combo meal is a good deal. You get sandwich, fries and a large drink for $9 (far better deal than ordering ala carte.)
- The fried eggplant is a great addition (and completely necessary)
- Love the iced tea and lemonade
- Hot sauce is hoooooot!
- You get to build your own sandwich. (Maybe this is should be left to the professionals)
- The set up makes it very difficult to layer the ingredients
- How is eggplant and hummus not included in a regular sandwich! Booooooo
- The place is tiny, so sometimes there is a bottle neck after you order and you’re waiting for your sandwich. Plus you can feel rushed
- One person can only handle one sandwich. It’s practically impossible to build two sandwiches… so if you like picking up lunch for friends this is not the place for you.
Maoz Vegetarian, 200 W. 40th Street (on 7th Ave.) 212-777-0820