Yesterday I lunched with friends (which is to say, with the audience of this site) at Hyde Park in Austin (the old one). It’s required of those living in Austin to like, even adore, Hyde Park, and I do like it. The people there are really nice, at least, and it’s a fun place to meet.
I ordered the “Falafel Burger”, and was rewarded with a beautifully-formed slab of falafel on a bun. The presentation was OK, in the sense that it was interesting to look at, but seriously guys you can’t really think that’s a success. The falafel stuff itself was fine, though not as good as the almost disorientingly fantastic falafel at Sarah’s. The problem is that the material qualities of a block of cooked falafel turn the whole “sandwich theorem” on its head.
You collect food into a (traditional, “western”) sandwich when the foodstuff you want to eat can’t be picked up and held without either falling apart or being a greasy mess. The bread provides a non-gross, grippable container for the internals. The unfortunate bun surrounding my falafel, however, was faced with the serious challenge of containing the fried falafel puck over the lifespan of the meal. It basically failed; it would have fallen apart much sooner had I more liberally applied the yogurty sauce served alongside the sandwich. The falafel itself was so solid and firm that the bread experienced considerable kneading as the sandwich was consumed.
Now, as I said, the falafel itself was fine, and for that matter the bread was fine too. But the architecture of that dish is just wrong. Make the falafel in little chunks like the people who live on the stuff do – they’re the subject matter experts. Wrap it up in something like pita (and by the way I’ve been thinking lately how cool it is that the word “pita”/”pizza” is such a universal accross the Mediterranean) and drop the whole “burger” idea. Try as I might I can’t think of a way to harmonize the structural nature of fried falafel with bun-based delivery systems.
In a way, I think that “veggie burgers” in general suffer from the same problem. However most vegetarian “patties” designed for sandwiches are a lot thinner than the falafel in that Hyde Park sandwich. Cooked ground beef tends to be more pliable than a veggie patty, and of course sliced meat is a whole different story, being very bendy and yet having plenty of tensile strength.
The Hyde Park fries were good. I feel guilty that I consider the fries at the Boat House Grill to be better, though for all I know they’re fried straight out of the commercial wrapper they come frozen in.