A few months ago, Darna chose to announce its imminent arrival in Cobble Hill with a rather intimate paean to its signature product. Posted on the storefront window, it read, in part: “… soft on the inside yet firm sexy brown on the inside. Being with you my love always leaves us stress free and healthy. … We love you dearly … Falafel.” (Emphasis theirs, obviously.)
But even as the sound of crying doves slowly receded, another falafel purveyor was preparing to open a few avenues east in Park Slope. The project of two twentysomething pals, Kulushkät Gourmet Falafel promised to serve a mostly vegan menu of flavored falafels, as well as smoothies, salads, and snacks. It opened within a few weeks of Darna, so we decided to see how the recent arrivals — which, as you’ll see below, even have almost identical phone numbers — fared against one another.
Our first stop was Darna. Despite what its sign may have implied, it’s an unassuming, modest little place. Its most flamboyant touch is an enormous window that invites diners to tan as they chew. We ordered the $3.50 falafel sandwich and splurged an extra $1.50 for hummus. It’s an excellent deal: In addition to the sandwich, which is stuffed with freshly made falafel, you get a salad of lettuce, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese.
We were prepared to love this sandwich. But while we admired its bounty — no less than five chickpea fritters strained the pita to its breaking point — we were less enamored of its actual quality. The pita was flavorless and a bit tough, and the falafel, though fairly tasty, was chewy and verging toward teething-ring territory. The tomatoes were pallid things, and their flaws became more readily apparent in the salad, which was further marred by the tinny, weirdly sweet olives. The hummus, though, was pretty good, and made a decent lubricant for the falafel.
So we walked along Dean Street to Kulushkät, which occupies a similarly modest storefront next to the old location of Taro Sushi. Inside, there’s a display case filled with Middle Eastern breads and pastries and, along one wall, a flat-screen TV. During our visit, it was tuned to the Food Network, and we halfheartedly watched Giada de Laurentiis lick a wooden spoon as we waited for our falafel sandwich to appear.
Although we were tempted by Kulushkät’s flavored falafels, we chose its classic variety for the sake of comparison. Packed into a pita, it costs $5.50. And though that may seem less a bargain than Darna’s sandwich, it’s far better value.
Simply put, Kulushkät’s got some damn fine balls. Fried to swarthy perfection, they’ve got the crunchy shell and creamy guts that inspire hyberbolic exclamation, and are delicately but decisively seasoned with cilantro, onion, parsley, and a host of spices that include cumin and paprika. They share real estate with a red cabbage salad and a few plush chunks of roasted eggplant.
If the pita contained nothing but that eggplant, we’d still be happy, and we can say the same about the cabbage, which gets a vibrant boost from a combination of citrus and cilantro. As for the pita, it’s soft, pliable, and tastes like something that came out of an oven instead of a plastic bag. All of which makes the battle a foregone conclusion, but if you still need convincing …
… then Kulushkät is the obvious winner. Its name, incidentally, means “shut up and eat” in Moroccan Arabic, and when the falafel is this good, you’d do well to obey such a command.
Kulushkät Gourmet Falafel
446 Dean Street, Brooklyn
200 Court Street, Brooklyn
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2011