Although I’ve categorized this post under “Seen on the run,” that’s not entirely accurate. My number one training goal for this month is to avoid heat stroke, and so my trek to Astoria last week to see the Welling Court murals was accomplished via N train and a slow, shuffling walk down 30th avenue. (Truth be told,”slow” and “shuffling” are also pretty good descriptions of my running these days.)
The plan – to the extent I had one – was to see the murals; try the falafel and shawarma at King of Falafel and Shawarma (henceforth, “KOFAS” or simply “the King”); and use my NYC ID to sign up for membership at the Museum of the Moving Image. If I stumbled across some other interesting stuff along the way, so much the better.
Almost immediately, I stumbled across Athens Square. In a tribute to the area’s Greek immigrant heritage, this tiny park packs the absolute maximum amount of Greekness into the absolute minimum space. Doric columns! Athena! Aristotle! Socrates! Sophocles! Throw in some black-and-white checkerboard pavement, and the effect is hallucinatory (especially in 90 degree heat).
Proceeding down the avenue, I made a mental note of Father & Sons Deli (promising “the sandwich you remember”) and, just off 30th on Crescent St., a place called simply “S & J” that promised couscous and harira and that (I discovered later) is drawing rave reviews.
The murals began to come into focus after I crossed 21st St. and are, as advertised, extraordinary. They extend over several blocks of low-slung warehouses, auto repair shops and discount stores. A slideshow follows:
Stair-stepping back east and south through some pretty residential streets (wood-frame Victorians, grand brick apartment buildings with royal names wrapped around leafy courtyards), I eventually made my way to Broadway, where the “Kale Life” juice stand attached to a bodega at the corner of 29th St. made this Brooklynite feel right at home.
Tempting as icy cold kale juice is on a hot day (I jest, people!), I walked on. I had a date with the King.
Sometimes the kinds of hole-in-the-wall places I love are so unobtrusive you can walk right by them. That is not the case with KOFAS. It pays homage to its food truck origins by projecting the front end of a truck out of the storefront.
A bright lime green truck. License plate, “Falafel1.”
Enter the restaurant, and you are enveloped in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Walls, tables and chairs are red, green and black. Black-and-white keffiyehs hang from rustic baskets, and a giant key holds pride of place by a map of Palestine. About the only design elements that aren’t red, black, or green are two landscape murals. The one at the front of the restaurant depicts the Queens East River waterfront; the one in the back, Jerusalem.
Can I just say how thrilling it was, after eating in way too many places that timidly label Arab food as “Mediterranean,” to order from a menu that describes its dishes as not just Arab, but specifically Palestinian? So I was predisposed to like the place even before the woman who took my order offered me a falafel as I waited . . . before my overstuffed shawarma (pro-tip: do not order your sandwich to go, it will be much too big and messy) arrived, garnished with yet another falafel . . . and before I tasted the shawarma.
It was really, really good. I passed on the mysterious “white sauce” that has spread, like a disgusting, mayonnaise-y plague, from halal food cart to halal food cart across the five boroughs, and so it came dressed the way a shawarma is supposed to come dressed: tahini, pickles, salad and optional hot sauce (yes, please).
And the falafel? They’re elongated torpedoes (like fried kibbe), rather than balls or disks, aggressively seasoned, and by far the best I’ve had in New York City (sorry, Tanoreen). These are the falafel of nostalgia. The shape may have been new, but the spices transported me to Warren Avenue in Dearborn, and from there, back even further, and farther, to the streets of Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in the mid-1970s, on a Wednesday night.
After a lunch like that, I reacted with equanimity rather than rage when the Museum of the Moving Image rejected my free membership on a technicality. So what if I had to wait on line in order to be turned down? It was air-conditioned, the wall of the lobby featured a fun exhibit on GIFs, and my belly was full of the King’s shawarma and falafel.