Anybody who's been to North Park Produce knows it's a reliable source for Mediterranean foods, whether you're jonesing for good baba ghanoush or want to stock up on fresh pitas (usually both, in my case). Driving past the Poway location of the somewhat specialty supermarket recently, I noticed a new fixture to the left of the storefront: a Persian bakery and grill.
Sure enough, the small cafeteria counter and dining room opened adjacent to the grocery – you may enter through the market, though with the number of shopping carts clogging the aisles around midday, you're better off accessing the restaurant directly.
The long line to the register was a good sign; the fact that at least a couple of Middle Eastern languages were being spoken in line ahead of me, even better. When I made it to the front, I discovered the place was already sold out of both beef and chicken shawarma for the day. At 1 p.m. That's got to mean something.
I was left to deliberate over kebabs, rotisserie chicken or Persian stews called Ghormeh Sabzi and Gheemeh. With rain and a cold snap about to pick up outside, it would have made sense to try these stews, especially as I'd never before done so. However, the 'bakery' part of the restaurant's name led me to believe I couldn't get an accurate reading without going for something served on bread.
The flaming brick oven behind the counter reinforced this, and I opted for a falafel sandwich. After all, if you can't judge a Middle Eastern spot on its falafel, what can you judge?
Well, in a word, baklava. I grabbed one of those too. There were several flavors available, including pistachio, but I skipped ahead to chocolate — and added a shortbread sandwich cookie. There were several trays filled with pastries, and the fact I kept it to two showed real restraint. As it was, my entire bill came to only $6.55 – 4 dollars for the sandwich and a buck or so each for the desserts – so I could have loaded up. But frankly, the pastries were satisfying, but in now way the real story here.
That falafel sandwich kept it simple, with a few sliced onions, tomatoes and lettuce, only lightly dressed with tzatziki. I looked around for some added sauce: white, spicy or otherwise, but found none. This concerned me, because falafel can be quite dry and I like it saucy. There's only so much the complimentary cucumber infused water would do to wash it down.
I needn't have worried. The sandwich may have been on the dry side, but not problematically so. The falafel carried enough moisture and seasoning to pull it off. But primarily the softness and freshness of the bread had me devouring the thing like I was eating on a time limit. Quality bread and reasonably good ingredients goes a long way in my sandwich book, and while I'm happy to eat a vegetarian meal from time to time, the potential for shawarma served on this bread will bring me back soon. And every time afterwards, I'll swing through the grocery after lunch for their excellent baba ghanoush to take home for later.