a couple's adventures in eating
Restaurant: King O Falafel
Location: 5045 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy. Kissimmee, FL
The Food: Lamb Shish-ka-bob (includes rice, vegetables, and a choice of soup or salad)
The Price: $9.99 plus tax
The Critique: MMMMM…Toasty reads the unlit neon sign above the cash register at this local eatery. Q’s adorn the backs of chairs, and the ones on the walls have been cleverly converted into thought bubbles featuring pictures of the foods that are offered here. One would think this place is a Quiznos right? Wrong. You want to know why? Because Quiznos sucks and no one likes it. Ok, maybe that is just me. The bottom line is, the food served at King O Falafel is perhaps the farthest thing from torpedos and bullets which feel more like bombs and lead balloons in your stomach. Yes this restaurant was once a toasty “sub” shop, but in the corporate franchise graveyard lies a flavor and a value unmatched by a “sandwich” shop of any name.
Rule one of eating at a place that boasts a particular food in its title…get it. If the restaurant is bold enough to narrow themselves to a particular food, it is fair to judge the “book by its cover.” The falafel here, in my opinion, is unmatched by any competitor that I have ever had. My falafel resume speaks to falafel sampled on the streets of New York City, in Middle Eastern restaurants, and those cooked at home. Without a doubt, these are the best. With a dark brown crunchy exterior and a vibrant verdant interior, the flavor is simple and exotic at the same time. They are cooked in a large seasoned skillet above a very high heat, so the exterior stays crunchy and the grease never penetrates the complex proteins of the patty. They come in half-dozen and dozen portions and at the low price of $2.99 for six, is one of the best deals in the place. They are served with a cool yogurt-based sauce and are to die for.
I also had their split lentil soup prior to having my entree. It is smooth and creamy, and carries with it a clean lentil flavor that makes me want seconds or thirds. My love will elaborate, I’m sure, as this is her first favorite.
The entrée? Lamb. Dear Lord, thank you so much for bringing unto us lamb. It has got to be one of my favorite foods ever. As I am of Greek descent, this should be no surprise. I’m the kind of guy that likes the bold, muttony, “gamey” flavor of an older lamb that is frequently snubbed and seldom sold by westerners. If you aren’t one of these people, don’t worry. Jamal serves young lamb that is mild in its muttony-ness, but packs the flavor in other ways. Leave your mint jelly at home. Better yet, throw it away. Empty the jar into the garbage disposal, remove your disposal from the sink, light the disposal on fire, and beat out the flames with a Gallagher Sledge-O-Matic.
One condiment is acceptable with lamb and only one – lemon. Jamal concocts a lemon-garlic sauce that adorns most of his food and this sauce is outstanding. Containing a blend of garlic, olive oil, jalapeno, and green peppers, (and probably other secret stuff) this condiment boosts the flavor of the flame-charred lamb up and away. If you aren’t a lamb person, don’t fret. You too can taste this amazing sauce on most things in his restaurant. He puts it over other meats, as well as vegetables, and perhaps the best rice I have ever tasted. Rice? In a word, yes. I’m not a big carbs and starch person, but as simple as it sounds this rice is a can’t miss.
If this post seems long-winded, it is. I write passionately about this place because the owner, Jamal is an incredibly hard worker with a beautiful product. Beyond being the owner, he is the cashier, manager, chef, cook, server, trainer, busboy, and host. He has hands on deck to help him, but works the kitchen with a quiet mastery that produces incredible food. My caveat is simple. If you expect atmosphere aside from some Middle Eastern music and pictures and rugs you are in the wrong place. If you expect “fast food” you are in the wrong place. With the focus on the food, and not the decor, you get made-to-order food that is worth waiting for.
The Verdict: Not only do I look up to this food, I look up to a hard working small businessman who creates one heck of an artform.
WHAT SHE ATE
The Food: Gyro sandwich (hold the onions) and a small lentil soup
The Price: $5.49 for the sandwich, $1.99 for the soup
Timothy took me to this unsuspecting place within the first few weeks of us dating. I’m sure I probably ordered something that I could look “pretty” eating versus our now routine of digging in and getting messy (that’s what she said). Regardless, I was as hooked on the food as I was on Timothy. King O Falafel is utter perfection if you’re looking for affordable Mediterranean cuisine in a clean, inviting setting. The leftover remnants of the far less superior Quizno’s that once embodied the space are nothing short of charming. The food is mere evidence of the meticulous care put into it and you can always expect consistency. Above all, the family members running the restaurant all have hearts of gold and have been known to give us free baklava and spinach pie as a simple thank you for our loyalty as customers. Doesn’t that just bring a tear to your eye?
My usual go-to is falafel to start, followed by the Mediterranean salad and a cup of lentil soup. For the purposes of this blog, I nixed the salad and went with something that had a little more substance: the gyro (and so help me God, if you don’t pronounce it “yee-roh,” I might be forced to make you use a PC and no one wants to be subjected to that) .
I have been a gyro lover for as long as I can remember: the warm, succulent gyro meat laced in refreshingly cool zig-zags of tzatziki, packed in a warm thick blanket of soft pita. It’s a sandwich that requires perfect balance of each ingredient. If the tomato’s not ripe, it sucks. If the pita’s too dry, it sucks. If the meat wasn’t warmed on a rotating spit, it sucks. If the tzatziki is too runny and lacks cucumber, it sucks. Jamal adds brilliant Middle Eastern flair to his gyros. He calls it, “Jerusalem salad.” Rather than your usual oversized slices of tomato, the gyro is topped with an almost salsa-like blend of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and mint. YES.
The falafel is the best I’ve had as is the tahini sauce that accompanies it. Who would have thought that a little fried pellet of green stuff (fava beens, chickpeas & parsley to be exact) could be so good? First favorite is right.
And the lentil soup? Thin puree of lentils and spices cooked to a creamy golden finish and topped with a stunning swirl of olive oil and lemon juice make this a dish I would eat daily if I could.
Other menu items I’d suggest: the mint tea and the vegetarian plate (comes with hummus, babaghanouj, tabouleh, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves).
The Verdict: I’m looking up to this meal so hard so you don’t even know.