The Great South Bay Falafel-Off

In ancient times, falafels were not just delicious fried balls of chick peas. Falafel making was at the center of human existence in those days; empires rose and fell at the mercy of their leaders’ falafel prowess. To question another’s falafel was to insult the very core of their being, and bloody falafel duels were common on the dusty streets of, uh … the cities where, um, falafels were popular. Whichever cities those were. I’m not really sure.

” No, ‘gyros’ is not plural “

Ok, so perhaps I’ve embellished a little bit on the history of falafels, but that’s beside the point. What really matters is that I have personally researched two present-day South Bay chick pea giants: Falafel’s Drive-In and Falafel Stop. Let’s see how they compare.



Falafel’s Drive-In

Smallest 'parking lot' I have ever seen. I'm not sure it can hold an entire car.

Smallest ‘parking lot’ I have ever seen. I’m not sure it can hold an entire car.


meter-great-The first stop on my quest for the greatest Mediterranean food within five miles of my house was Falafel’s Drive-In. This place was already immensely popular before being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives back in 2007, and since then it’s become even more mainstream. The first thing my lunch party and I noticed when we pulled up was a cartooned Guy Fieri featured in the middle of a large, colorful mural in the semi-outdoor dining area. Then we spotted another Guy Fieri in another mural, and then another. So pretty much this place is the Church of Guy. Weird. If anyone had asked me if I’d like some Kool-Aid, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The decor isn't boring, that's for sure.

The decor isn’t boring, that’s for sure.

The menu offers a variety of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, as well as more traditional diner fare like burgers and fries. After deliberating on the menu and placing our order, it took only a few minutes for our food to show up at the window – barely enough time to finish counting Guys.

No, 'gyros' is not plural.

No, ‘gyros’ is not plural.

I opted for a gyros pita, mostly because that’s what I always get at places like this. Instead of the thin strips I was expecting, Falafel’s Drive-In serves their gyros meat as large, cubed lumps… and it really works. The tzatziki sauce was excellent, the veggies were crisp and fresh as can be, and the pita bread was stuffed to its absolute maximum capacity. I’ve had plenty of gyros over the years, and this is one of the better ones I’ve encountered. I’ll be back for another one of those.

I'm pretty sure I have no idea how to pronounce this.

I’m pretty sure I have no idea how to pronounce this.

Also included in our lunch order was a koubby, which is basically a large beef meatball with pine nuts and onions wearing a crispy wheat jacket. None of us at the table knew how to pronounce “koubby” but we guessed it might rhyme with “Scooby”, and so we simply referred to it as a Scooby Snack. This is undoubtedly incorrect on many levels, but because it amused us we just went with it.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Scooby Snacks – indeed, it was something new for all of us – but I am happy to report that it was very tasty indeed. I noticed a definite undertone of cinnamon in the ground beef filling, but it was well-balanced and very meaty. It reminded me very much of pastitsio (aka Greek lasagne) in its flavor profile. Delicious.

Everyone likes pictures of French fries.

Everyone likes pictures of French fries.

Falafel’s Drive-In is also very well known for their banana milkshakes, but because it was a million degrees below zero that day we opted out. Ok, so it was actually about 55 degrees F, but in California that’s cold enough to make liquid nitrogen. Weather aside, I give Falafel’s Drive-In a very respectable 8 out of 10 Scooby Snacks. We very much enjoyed our visit and would be happy to return sometime very soon.

      Pros
+ Gigantical chunks of gyros meat
+ Scooby Snacks!
+ It’s been on Triple-D
+ Banana milkshakes are rumored to be awesome
      Cons
Guy is watching you
No parking to speak of

Falafel’s Drive-In
2301 Stevens Creek Boulevard
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 294-7886
www.falafelsdrivein.com

Falafel Drive-in on Urbanspoon



——————————————————————



Falafel Stop

Exactly like Falafel's Drive-In, minus the murals.

Exactly like Falafel’s Drive-In, minus the murals.

meter-greatThe second half of this Mediterranean showdown takes place at Falafel Stop, another icon of South Bay one-off fast food. At first glance, it looks pretty much the same as Falafel’s Drive-In. It has a walk-up window, generous outdoor seating, (almost) no parking, and a massive cult following. At this point, however, the similarities end. You will not find a burger, gyros, or koubby on the menu at Falafel Stop; instead the focus is on shuwarmas, kebabs, and of course falafel.

There's plenty of room to sit and be confused about your order.

There’s plenty of room to sit and be confused about your order.

We perused the menu, decided on our plan of attack, and obediently stood in line underneath a sign clearly indicating “Order Here”. (There’s a reason I make a point of this fact. More on this later.) While we were waiting, we were presented with piping hot samples of crispy, divine falafel complete with a drizzle of dipping sauce. Oh my goodness were they delicious, and quite an unexpected bonus as part of our visit. Plus one point for Falafel Stop.

Little golden balls of nom

Little golden balls of nom

We ordered a shuwarma pita, a Greek salad, some falafel, and a couple of sodas. We paid the cashier and he handed us two receipts. He said, “Head over to the grill for the hot food, but the falafel are from the kitchen so we’ll bring those to you. Let us know when you get the salad so we can put another falafel on that.” Even he seemed confused by this. We nodded dumbly, took the receipts, and looked around unsure of what to do next. “The grill will have your order, that’s what the other receipt is for,” he clarified.

Oh.

What?

We shuffled a few steps into the dining area, scanning our two receipts for a possible clue and glancing back at the dubious “Order Here” sign. At that moment, someone handed us our sodas and a little bag of falafel. The cashier stuck his head out of the door and said, “The kitchen already knew about your falafel so you can never mind that part.”

Huh?

Utterly flabbergasted, we decided just to sit down and see what would happen next. After a few minutes, someone walked out from what was apparently “the grill” and asked us if we had ordered a shuwarma pita. “Um, yes, we did,” I replied.

“Oh ok,” he said, “we have your order over here. I need your receipt.” I handed him one of the receipts. “The other one,” he said. I handed him the other one. He walked me over to the grill area and proceeded to expertly and swiftly construct my shuwarma pita, and it looked fairly amazing.

The prices at Falafel Stop appear to have been set using a random number generator.

The prices at Falafel Stop appear to have been set using a random number generator.

I returned to the table with my grilled pocket of perfection, and we waited. Nothing seemed to be happening. We noticed an area next to the cashier that looked like it might be where the salads happen, and we guessed our other receipt might be required. It was. The salad people did their thing and before long our entire order had been completed. We think.

This is the pita bread you've been searching your whole life for.

This is the pita bread you’ve been searching your whole life for.

Setting aside the ridiculous ordering process for a moment, let me just say that the food at Falafel Stop is nothing short of spectacular. The falafel were great (as I’ve already mentioned), the shuwarma meat was seasoned to perfection and plentiful, and the veggies were remarkably fresh. Even the salad was excellent. What really caught me by surprise, however, was the pita bread. Holy smoley, what a masterpiece. Pita bread is usually a forgettable, dry envelope that holds delicious things; it’s just a utensil, a throw-away. I don’t think I can even recall what normal pita bread even tastes like… but THIS stuff. Wow! It arrives fresh from the kitchen piping hot and fluffy – it’s truly a thing to behold. It falls somewhere between an English muffin and naan. Incredible.

It's all Greek to me. Salad, that is.

It’s all Greek to me. Salad, that is.

In the end, I felt that the food at Falafel Stop edged out Falafel’s Drive-In. The two can’t really judged in a side-by-side comparison because they are so different, but if you asked me which of the two I’d rather visit next, I’d choose Falafel Stop. Unfortunately, the inane process to actually acquire food at Falafel Stop put a bit of a damper on their score, but I still feel that they deserve a solid 9 out of 10 fluffy pitas.

      Pros
 + Falafel samples!
 + That pita bread, I don’t even
+/- More parking than Falafel Drive-In, barely
      Cons
Incomprehensible ordering system
Seriously, what the hell

Falafel Stop
1325 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 735-7182
www.falafelstop.biz

Falafel Stop on Urbanspoon


Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Best banana bread ever

Most banana bread recipes go something like this: Smash up some bananas with eggs and flour and bake for a while. That approach works well enough, I suppose, but that’s what everybody does. Don’t you want to be a different? Of course you do. The recipe I am posting here adds a few more steps, but those steps are very much worth it. Out of all the different banana bread recipes I’ve tried, this one produces the best results. There are easier recipes to make and ones that mess up fewer dishes in the process, but if you want truly amazing banana bread then look no further. There are many versions of this recipe posted around the interwebs, but the original recipe was apparently published in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine at some point in time I can’t be bothered to look up.

Skip to the short version

Spots = sweet = delicious.

Spots = sweet = delicious.

” Ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five-pound sack “

Before we get into the details of the other ingredients, obviously you are going to need bananas. Good, ripe ones, maybe even over-ripe. Sometimes it can be a challenge to collect exactly the correct number of correct-ripeness bananas precisely when you want to make banana bread, so anytime you end up with an uneaten banana on its last legs, peel it and throw it into a bag in the freezer. A few iterations of this and before you know it you’ll have a half dozen nicely ripened bananas ready for bread making. If this strategy sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because I follow the same process with the ingredients for my chicken stock recipe, which you have undoubtedly already read. Right? *wink wink*


Ingredients

  • 6 large bananas (insert “large banana” jokes here)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tsp granulated sugar


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large microwave-safe bowl
  • a saucepan
  • a mesh strainer
  • a loaf pan of some kind, 8 1/2″ will do
  • patience
  • trust (Some of the steps are odd, but I promise it’s worth it.)


Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take one of your six bananas – a decent-looking one that isn’t too mushy – and set it aside. Take the remaining five bananas, frozen or otherwise, and put them into a large microwaveable bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, poke a few holes for ventilation, and microwave for five minutes, six if some of the bananas are frozen. While you wait for the microwave, put your mesh strainer over your saucepan and get out some hotpads. When the microwave beeps, you will end up with a weird, discolored lump of banana goo floating in clear stuff the same temperature as the surface of the sun.

Fact: Bananas are lethal when microwaved for five minutes.

Fact: Bananas are lethal when microwaved for five minutes.

CAREFULLY remove the plastic wrap, doing your best not to sustain permanently disfiguring facial burns from the steam, and pour/dump the mess of superheated banana material into the mesh strainer perched atop your saucepan. Leave it there for 15 minutes.

I bet you didn't expect this step.

I bet you didn’t expect this step.

While the banana magma drains, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. When the 15 minutes are up (yes, you really have to wait the whole 15 minutes), remove the microwaved bananas from the strainer, put them in a medium-sized bowl, and set aside. In the saucepan, you should have collected 1/2 to 3/4 cup of clear liquid. This is pure, unadulterated banana essence (sometimes also called “juice”), and we are going to turn it into banana syrup. Oh yes, we are.

It will thicken up a bit when it's done.

It will thicken up a bit when it’s done.

Simmer the banana juice over medium-high heat until it’s been reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes or so. When it’s done, pour it into the bowl with the bananas. I know this seems stupid, but what we’ve effectively done here is concentrate all that awesome banana flavor into a smaller, more intense package. It’ll be great, really it will.

It tastes better than it looks.

It tastes better than it looks.

Add the melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla and stir well. Before you add the eggs, make sure the mixture isn’t too hot; nobody likes cooked egg bits in their banana bread. Stir in the eggs, then pour the whole mess into the flour mixture and fold everything together, being careful not to over-mix.

If you want to ruin everything, add chopped walnuts at this time. When you’re done with that, you might as well pull the wings off a few butterflies and then go kick a puppy. In case it’s not clear, I recommend against this step.

Walnuts are gross.

Walnuts are gross.

Lightly grease your loaf pan and pour the batter in. Take that last banana, slice it, and lay the slices on the top of the loaf along both sides. Leave a gap in the middle to allow the bread to rise as it bakes. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the top.

I know, I didn't sprinkle the sugar evenly. So sue me.

I know, I didn’t sprinkle the sugar evenly. So sue me.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 to 75 minutes. Insert a toothpick or wooden skewer into the center of the loaf; when it comes out clean, the bread is done.

This is ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five pound sack.

This is ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five pound sack.

Allow to cool for at least 7 or 8 seconds, cut some slices, and bask in delicious banana glory.



Yes, I do put butter on everything.

Yes, I do put butter on everything.



tl;dr

Best banana bread ever

Ingredients

  • 6 large bananas
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tsp granulated sugar


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large microwave-safe bowl
  • a saucepan
  • a mesh strainer
  • a loaf pan of some kind, 8 1/2″ will do


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take one banana, slice, and set aside. Microwave the remaining bananas for 5 minutes. Place in mesh strainer and allow to drain for 15 minutes. Pour resulting juice into a saucepan and reduce to 1/4 cup volume over medium heat, then recombine with microwaved bananas. Add melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Add walnuts if desired. Pour batter into lightly greased loaf pan, lay sliced banana on top and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 55 to 75 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.



See also


Standard Recipe Disclaimer
I don’t come up with a lot of my own recipes (unless you count my own personal milk-to-Grape-Nuts ratio), and chances are the recipe posted above belongs to or was inspired by a person other than me. So if you’re wondering whether or not I ripped somebody off, I probably did. Don’t get out the pitchforks and torches just yet though! I want to make absolutely sure I give credit where it’s due, so if you think someone deserves recognition for something that I haven’t already called out FOR CRYING OUT LOUD LET ME KNOW. Thanks, I appreciate it. Here’s a cookie.