The 2010 Vendy Awards, a celebration of New York street food, will be held on September 25 at Governors Island. All proceeds will benefit the Street Vendor Project, an arm of the Urban Justice Center, advocating for the interests of New York street vendors. This year's five finalists will all be on hand to feed the masses and compete for the city's ultimate title in street food. Each day this week, we'll be profiling one of them. Today's chosen cart: King of Falafel! —The Mgmt.
A week into my internship at Serious Eats, the council of elders decided that my time had come. "You must go to Queens," intoned Carey. "Your task is to seek out the ruler of this land, and bring us his most prized possessions. He is known as Freddy, the King of Falafel."
My fellow interns gave me courage. "Good luck," they said, settling more comfortably in their chairs. Armed with only my outdated tourist's map and a newcomer's ignorance of New York, I took the Q train out to Astoria, land of eyebrow threading and shawarma.
The sun was shining in Queens, and the food truck on 31st and Broadway was bathed in a glorious light. I joined the other pilgrims forming a reverent line on the sidewalk, and squinted at the sizzling shreds of chicken on the grill. A large spit of shawarma, crowned with a slow-cooked onion, rotated slowly.
The line moved quickly, and soon I found myself confronted by three men in identical "King of Falafel" t-shirts. They turned toward me in unison, eyeing my badly-concealed map with disdain:
"White sauce or red sauce?"
"Basmati or yellow rice?"
I hoped to win them over with my gluttony—I think it worked.
The spoils of war were definitely worth the challenge. The chicken and rice platter ($6) won our vote as the most noble dish. Richly coated in both white (creamy yogurt) and red (hot chili skhug) sauces, the moist chicken was supported by a bed of fragrant rice studded with spears of pickled turnips, sharp onions, and pickles. Their unexpected sour crunch of the pickles was revelatory.
Second in popularity was the shawarma pita, stuffed with strips of meat that were thin and curling. I have always had a nameless fear of shawarma (why is the meat lollipop so big?), and so was pleasantly surprised by its tender lambiness.
My sole disappointment was the falafel itself. I'd heard the Serious Eaters wax poetic over Freddy's falafel in the past, but the one I ordered suffered in the long trip home. Freddy's fava bean balls are elongated into oblong shapes that, according to him, enhance the crunch-to-filling ratio. But by the time I tasted it, my falafel was a little heavy and lost its crispness. Compared to its carnivorous brothers, the falafel platter seemed a bit undeserving of the throne. Maybe it was the train ride back; maybe it was just an off day. Of course, now that I'm an expert at finding my way to Freddy's truck, I can go back to give it another try.