As reported in Eater Chicago, the falafel franchise Falafill is looking to open shop in Oak Park.
I spoke with owner Maher Chebaro last summer, and he told me at that time he had looked for a property in Oak Park but was unable to find a suitable location. Now, apparently, he has.
Having bemoaned the franchise take-over of Lake Street in several previous blog posts, I’m on record as being skeptical of any operation with multiple locations moving into Oak Park. I think it dilutes local character. I'm also a big fan of Oak Park's own Jerusalem Cafe. Still, Falafill offers a satisfying sandwich, if you know what you’re doing.
I visited the Broadway location of Falafill in 2009, and the basic idea is that you buy your falafel in a pita or a bowl. Then you load the falafel with condiments from a vast armamentarium of pickles and sauces and salads. This “falafel-with-salad-bar” concept was pioneered by places like Maoz in Amsterdam and Amsterdam Falafelshop in Washington.
When faced with this amazing spectrum of condiments, making the right choices can be challenging for some (like me) who tend to grab whatever looks good without really thinking ahead to how it might combine with other condiments (I make the same mistake at Flattop Grill -- my "creations" come out tasting like mud, with no distinct flavors, just a mess).
The first time I went to Falafill, I loaded my falafel bowl with way too many fixins (pictured). This was a huge mistake (mine entirely) because all that wet stuff loaded on top of those six fried falafel balls made them, not surprisingly, very uncrisp, mushy, and almost indistinguishable from the chaos of condiments all around them.
If you’re careful about what you load on, however, Falafill offers good renditions of the signature fried chickpea balls and a lot of ways to dress this basic meal. Their fried sweet potatoes are excellent (and that’s saying a lot because it’s challenging to make a sweet potato fry up as crisp as a white potato fry – Falafill’s comes as close as any to achieving that satisfying crunch).
Chebaro’s goal is to have 100 stores up and running within five years. Who knows, perhaps as with Starbucks, several Falafill locations may sprout up in Oak Park.