Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hey! There’s the falafel!

I was not to be denied.

After finding what many consider the best Mediterranean restaurant in Tucson—Zayna—had been replaced by a UPS store, I went home and double checked. Yes, there had been such a restaurant, but it had
subsequently moved to a different location (shown on the right on the rainy day we stopped by). Why didn’t I notice this the first time around? Lack of due diligence on my part, I guess.

The first thing that you notice when you enter this small (thirty-two seats) café is the amazing smells coming from the kitchen. Intermingled with the olfactory presence of garlic was the smell of the exotic and often unidentified (at least by me) spices used in Mediterranean cooking.

There isn’t much that I can say about the décor. Other than the walls painted in bright reds and yellows, the red ceiling,

and the posters of Middle Eastern scenes (all with a somewhat greenish tint),

the only attempt at decoration was a rug or tapestry hung by the cash register and the spackle-painted back wall.

Since my forays into Mediterranean restaurants usually result in my eating a meat-free meal, I consider this healthy dining. And so does Chloe Levinson at, when she writes: “…When you eat too much at Zayna, you feel contented, buoyant and ready to sleep while your body derives the multitude of nutrients out of lentils, green beans, garlic, parsley and chickpeas. The food at Zayna is delicious, and it is the type of place where ‘too much of a good thing’ is still a good thing…. Parsley, the primary ingredient in tabbouleh, contains huge amounts of vitamin C and iron (the body needs vitamin C in order to digest iron, so parsley is a win-win, nutritionally speaking). It also aids in digestion, along with many of the other ingredients found in Mediterranean food, such as green beans and garlic. Lentils provide iron, protein and B vitamins. The only nutritional-negative to this cuisine is in the pita, if one eats too much of it.” While neither of us overate on this occasion, neither did either leave feeling calorie deprived.

Chuck stuck with his Mediterranean go-to meal, the gyro sandwich with a side of Zayna’s fries. His plate contained three variations from
the norm. First, the beautifully seasoned gyro meat was all beef rather than the more familiar beef and lamb combination. Second, instead of tzatziki which at times contains more cucumber than he would like, Zayna uses a garlic yogurt sauce. And the Zayna fries were certainly not your standard French fry. These were lightly fried half-moons of thin sliced potato with special “Syrian” (whatever that is) seasoning and lightly dressed with lemon and garlic.

One of the reasons that I enjoy Mediterranean restaurants is that I have the chance to order an assortment of small plates. I started with the falafel—vegetarian patties of chick peas with cilantro, onion, and sesame seeds.
“The origin of falafel is unknown and controversial. A common theory is that the dish originated in Egypt, possibly eaten by Copts as a replacement for meat during Lent. As Alexandria is a port city, it was possible to export the dish and name to other areas in the Middle East…. Falafel grew to become a common form of street food or fast food in the Middle East. The croquettes are regularly eaten as part of meze (Ed. Note: an assortment of small dishes). During Ramadan, falafel balls are sometimes eaten as part of the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast after sunset. Falafel became so popular that McDonald's now serves a ‘McFalafel’ in some countries” (

While these weren’t as highly seasoned as my favorite falafel from Lebanon’s Café in New Orleans, they had a moist almost creamy interior texture, while having an amazingly crisp exterior. These came with a small cup of the garlic yogurt sauce that was on Chuck’s gyro.

Next I ordered the za’tar pita which is sometimes referred to as Mediterranean pizza.
To again quote ChIoe Levinson: “If you have never tried za’tar pita, the fragrant, velvety fusion of thyme, sesame seeds and olive oil will send you to the moon.” Very good, but again not as good as that served at Lebanon’s Café.

My third item was a side order of long-cooked string beans that had been seasoned with caramelized onions (that gave a sweet note to the beans), garlic, and olive oil.
And, if you haven’t heard enough from Chloe, she says: “A strict foodie may prefer their green beans a little less well-cooked than they are served at Zayna, but these beans are so delicious that the quantity consumed will likely balance the nutritional loss of them being overcooked.”

No, I didn’t eat all of this. One falafel and two pieces of za’tar pita came home with me and were consumed for breakfast. In that way, I could again enjoy a 4.0 Addie meal.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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