Get your falafel on with Mamouns Middle Eastern cuisine
On Easton Avenue, you will never need to venture far to find a slice of pizza or a convenience store. But an authentic, ethnic eatery can be a bit more difficult to find. Luckily, there lies a hole-in-the-wall falafel restaurant on the intersection of Easton Avenue and Condict Street that brings the heart and soul of Middle Eastern cuisine back to New Brunswick.
The restaurant itself sets a traditional tone from the outside, with two brick and mortar arches announcing “Mamoun’s Falafel Est. 1971” to welcome all. For those that enjoy dining outside, there are covered tables. I found the architecture of the restaurant to be particularly attractive, with orange ridges lining the roof and assorted potted plants outside to accent the external brick and stone.
Stepping into the restaurant, I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed. The dim orange-yellow lighting, colorful paintings on the walls and gentle buzz inside the restaurant made for a cozy and inviting atmosphere. There were six or seven tables, but I chose to sit in the front where there were stools and a countertop facing a glass window overlooking the street outside.
The menu featured vegetarian or meat pita sandwiches and plates with multiple add-ons. In addition, there was a generous selection of side dishes, pastries and specialty drinks. I ordered a shish-kebob sandwich with sides of spinach pie, a baklava pastry and falafel — their most popular dish. I also noticed a mint lemonade in the specialty drink section — which I have never tried before — so I ordered it out of curiosity. The order arrived promptly and I then realized I had ordered entirely too much.
Nevertheless, I took a sip of the mint lemonade and found it to be refreshing and delicious. Taking a closer look, I was surprised to find a few floating pieces of real mint leaves. The drink itself had a hint of basil and was reminiscent of a “sharper” version of Starbucks' green tea lemonade.
The shish-kebob sandwich consisted of a pita pocket the size of a small clutch purse. The inside was filled with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cubes of grilled lamb and tahini sauce. Upon the first bite, the pita pocket was a bit dry, but the feeling didn’t last long as I was overwhelmed with the spices in the lamb and the earthy, sesame taste of the tahini sauce.
The lamb, which had a consistency of medium-cooked steak, had a bold, strong flavor as if it had been smoked instead of grilled. The tahini sauce had a creamy texture to complement. Most notably, the falafel side arrived in the form of deep-fried brown falafel balls with a green center. I found these to be heavily spiced and thick in texture with the consistency of a meatball. This dish was also accompanied with tahini sauce.
I was happy with the texture, taste and consistency of the baked goods. As for the baklava pastry, it was a sweet, flaky, triangle-shaped treat that had a rich, nutty flavor. I found the walnut flavor to be a bit overwhelming at first, but the accompanying honey taste that followed seemed to strike an adequate balance. The spinach pie had the same outward flaky texture as the baklava, but was much more delicate and had to be cut into pieces. The sautéed spinach was soft and quite mushy, but was satisfyingly salty and had hints of onion and spices — possibly oregano — as an aftertaste.
Admittedly, my experiences with Middle Eastern cuisine have been few and far between, so my trip to Mamoun’s was especially memorable. The authentic flair of the flavors and spices were unforgettable, while the texture of the pastries were unlike any other dessert I’ve encountered. I would definitely recommend for those who have been craving traditional Middle Eastern cooking or are eager to explore new ethnic tastes.