Exploring the Falafel Republic

Falafel Republic, a new restaurant with quick counter service, seeks to replicate an Israeli shop, serving a range of Mideast dishes and spices, starting with pita, salad and quinoa-lentil-hummus bowl — keeping it all local and making everything in-house, using no prepared or frozen food or mixes.

The restaurant, which opened in January, is in the Market of Choice pocket mall at 1465 Siskiyou Blvd. with access off both the boulevard and Ashland Street, has mondo parking and seating and serves beer and wine also. You can be enjoying your meal three minutes after you park.

Falafel has become a national “craze,” owner Sam Jackson admits, but that’s because it’s a food that’s basic, affordable, fast and increasingly familiar to all. His goal (not always found in every falafel house), is a meal “that is extremely satisfying and good for you and you feel good after you eat it. You know you ate something that’s clean and that leaves you feeling light and well-nourished, like sushi, nothing over the top, like you ate a Philly cheese steak.”

His menu, painted huge on the wall, goes like this: you choose a “base,” either 1) Pita, served with Israeli salad, red cabbage, tahini and Lebanese garlic sauce, for $8; 2) Salad, with romaine, Israeli salad, Kalamata olives, feta, red cabbage, pita, tahini or red wine vinaigrette, for $10; or 3) Bowl, with organic quinoa, lentils, hummus and choice of three sides, for $11.

Then add falafel (no extra charge), or eggplant ($1) or organic chicken ($2) or beef-lamb shawarma, spit fried, also for $2.

Sides are $4. The bowl includes three of them. Israeli salad is Persian cukes, Roma tomatoes, red onion, parsley, olive oil. Moroccan salad has carrots, currants, walnut, feta citrus. There’s roasted cauliflower, roasted beets, quinoa salad.

You get the idea — a rich and tasty range of Mideast foods and spices. In fact, says Jackson, a Bend native, it was tales of the ancient Silk Road, pipeline of countless spices from India and China to the Mideast and Europe, that hooked him years ago.

“I’ve worked in the restaurant business since I was 14 (he’s 33) and I’ve always been fascinated by the distribution of spices of India and Mideast-influenced cuisine. That’s why I chose the model of an Israeli falafel shop, the combination of spices and flavors — and the tradition of fresh, flavorful, straightforward food.”

Jackson prides himself on baking his own pita and bread, grinding his own soaked garbanzo beans, with garlic, onion and spices, and finding as many local ingredients as possible, with 60 to 75 percent organic, depending on season.

“House-made organic food, starting at $8. That’s hard to beat in Ashland.”

He’s also conscious of green principles, eschewing plastic clamshells and so-called biodegradable packaging, some of which goes in the landfill to break down many years later, if at all. He says he’s using to-go packaging steam pressed in Portland from sugar cane leaves.

For dessert, there’s baklava for $2.50 or Greek frozen yogurt for $4 (add baklava crumbles for $1, or add cherry sauce for 50 cents).

Jackson has seven employees, with half of them on the job at any time. They like to talk with customers and explain foods. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The menu and to-go info is at www.falafelrepublic.co.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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