Alfanoose is Baklavawesome
Alfanoose, located at 8 Maiden Lane between Broadway and Nassau, has been on the Downtown Lunch radar for awhile now. A quick search of the website has showed it popping up every year for the last few years. Lunch’er Lara recommended it to profiled Lunch’er “Tam” back in 2007. It was mentioned in the comments of the 2008 Readers’ Poll for Best Falafel. And most recently, Daniel was honing in on the place after visiting the Country Kebab. Seems to me it’s high time we made this puppy an official Downtown Lunch.
Most people would say that there’s one thing to get on your first trip to Alfanoose: falafel. According to their website, their claim to fame is that they’ve been awarded New York’s best falafel since 2000 by either New York Magazine, Gourmet Magazine, or the Daily News. While my gut tells me that’s probably a bit of creative marketing, I know it’s not right of me to judge until I’ve managed to taste it myself. And I have. It was a while ago, and it was a good sandwich- very good, though I’m not sure if I’d say it was the best, and at $5.75 definitely not the most cost effective downtown (that award would probably go to Sam’s). But for this visit I wanted to try something I hadn’t had before, so I upped the ante and went for the lamb shawarma.
I’m not gonna lie, my first impression of the shawarma was not a good one. To their credit, they put it together very quickly, but damn, that sucker was small. Wrapped up into a tight little aluminum foil cylinder, I was questioning whether I was gonna need two of them to get me anywhere near satisfied. And at $7.95, I was expecting something a hell of a lot bigger. Disappointed with the visual, I called in for reinforcements. One order of “baklawa”, please. Now, I always thought it was spelled with a ‘v’, but what it really comes down to is who gives a crap? I freakin’ love baklava, no matter how you spell it and I wasn’t gonna walk out of this place without getting some. At 2 bucks a pop, it puts me just barely under (technically over, but we’re gonna try and ignore that 88 cents worth of tax for now) the Midtown Lunch $10 price cap. If you’re really looking to keep it under ten, I’d recommend going for the falafel instead or, better yet, ignore the sandwiches altogether and just get 4 pieces of baklava.
After finding a nice cozy bench in a nearby park, I began to unwrap the shawarma. The lamb continued to look disappointing, the muted gray lacking any kind of browning and I assumed the flavor would follow suit. Boy, was I wrong. The lamb had been marinated in vinegar and had a nice tang to it, cutting through any lambiness. The lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, tahini, and hot sauce all worked really well together to give the wrap a lot of fantastic flavors. I’m especially a nut for pickles outside the usual realm of gherkins, with a weakness for Japanese tsukemono and various forms of pickles cabbage. This being a Middle Eastern joint, they didn’t have much of either, but one of the pickles in the wrap was very reminiscent of Japanese pickled eggplant, one of my favorites. Unfortunately, while the sandwich was really flavorful, the texture of the lamb wasn’t stellar. If it weren’t for the vegetables and sauce in the pita, the dryness of the lamb would have undoubtedly come through and made for a less pleasant experience. On the plus side, it was surprisingly filling, especially when accompanied by….
The baklava…. oh, the baklava. I’m feeling weak in the knees just thinking about it. The baklava had such a honey-glazed, nutty richness to it, it was almost too much for me to handle. Not too much as in “I had to throw it away” but too much as in “I went a lil crazy and dropped 20 dollars on more baklava.” The bottom was a sticky, squidgy mess (as any good baklava should be) and the top managed to retain some of it’s flakiness despite being engorged with honey. The paste between the two halves was thicker than most I’ve seen and brought back some fond memories of my grandmother’s pecan pie.
Based on this experience alone, I’d definitely go back for the baklava and would probably go back for a sandwich of another variety. I noticed they had cubed lamb leg for a dollar more and the behemoth of a vegetarian platter a coworker brought back to the office once is most definitely tempting despite being ten dollars. Incorporating my other trips to this Downtown staple, I’d say it’s worth exploring the entire menu on those days you’re feeling a little rich.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Must… have… baklava!!!
- The flavors mesh together really well
- I didn’t even know Middle Eastern pickles existed, but here they are
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The lamb in the shawarma is overcooked and dry
- I need a bigger sandwich to fill me up
- I can get more for my money elsewhere
Alfanoose, 8 Maiden Lane (btw. Broadway and Nassau) 212-528-4669
Photos and post by Lunch’er Chris