National fast-casual brands have been built on burritos, pizza and burgers. Now, falafel, baba ghanoush and shawarma are getting a moment in the spotlight at local and regional quick-service restaurants as demand increases for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors.
Concepts inside Parlor Food Hall in Kansas City range from pizza to Korean comfort food. At Karbón, chef Rachel Rinas blends Middle Eastern and Mexican flavors in dishes such as avocado hummus topped with housemade za’atar served with warm spiced pita bread, as well as musakhan carnitas with confit pork shoulder in a blend of sumac and bahārāt topped with raw onion and cilantro.
“Through traveling, meeting people and tasting things in Arab and Mexican cuisines, I’ve become intimately familiar with the fact that they all have such a huge history – the food cultures go back so far,” says Rinas. “Eastern Mediterranean [cuisine] as a whole has so many ingredients, and it’s interesting how well they all tie in: From Greece and Cyprus to Syria and Egypt, there are so many dishes that these countries share. And it’s the same in Mexico – it’s a huge country, but there are all these things that tie together.”
Karbón, 1707 Locust St. (located inside Parlor), Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, parlorkcmo.com/karbon-menu
Medina Mediterranean Grill
Garlicky chicken shawarma and crispy falafel are just two of the dishes that have helped Medina Mediterranean Grill expand to two locations in four years. Owner Ibrahim Ead spent his childhood living in both Palestine and St. Louis, and his menu reflects a blend of those cultures. The Juicy Jerusalem sandwich, for example, combines beef or chicken with roasted red peppers, sweet marinated onions, Provolone and a pesto-tahini sauce on French bread. It was important to Ead to offer quality food in a hurry, making the fast-casual concept an obvious choice. “Time is valuable,” says Ead. “A lot of people come on their lunch break, eat and have to go back to work.”
Medina Mediterranean Grill, multiple locations, medinagrill.com
Next year, Jason Sparks will debut Sumax, a fast-casual Middle Eastern concept, inside the forthcoming City Foundry food hall in St. Louis. As the owner of Layla, a burger and shawarma joint with two locations in the St. Louis area, he plans to serve menu favorites from his flagship restaurant at the new quick-service spot. “Sumax is going to be mostly plant-based,” says Sparks. “You’ll have your pick of wraps, bowls or salads, lots of hummus, different grains – mostly quinoa and brown rice – and we’ll also serve our sumac chicken.” Layla’s popular falafel fries will also appear on the menu, and soon, hopefully, in grocery stores around town.
Sumax, 3700 Forest Park Ave. (located inside City Foundry), Midtown, St. Louis, Missouri, cityfoundrystl.com
Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh
Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh is famous for three made-from-scratch staples: pita, hummus and falafel. Founded in Centennial, Colorado, in 2007, Garbanzo now operates restaurants in 10 states, including in Clayton and Creve Coeur, Missouri. The Clayton location is one of few within the chain that operates a standalone bakery, where just five ingredients – sugar, salt, flour, yeast and water – are used to make its Israeli pita bread.
“We went through more than 170 recipes before we got to this one,” says Devin Handler, Garbanzo’s vice president of marketing. “It needs to be fluffy and pillow-y, not crispy on the outside but still golden brown.”
That pita is one of five base choices for entrées, offered alongside salad, laffa wraps, flatbread or a plate. Proteins include gyro meat, grilled chicken and falafel or Falarma (a mix of chicken or steak and falafel), while toppings range from hummus and tabbouleh salad to baba ghanoush and seasoned rice. However you choose to assemble your meal, finish it with housemade sauces like tzatziki, tahini or Greek vinaigrette.
Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, multiple locations, eatgarbanzo.com