Thursday, January 29, 2009

La Cañada Valley Sun: Around Town; Away from town

La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

There are weeks when we nest. Stay close to home. Morning coffee at Zeli’s. A bagel at Goldsteins. A quick dinner at home, followed by a long evening at City Hall.

Then, there are weeks when we leave town. Perhaps for a weekend. Perhaps for a few hours.

La Cañada Flintridge benefits from its proximity to other neighborhoods. Without traffic, we are 18 minutes from sushi in Little Tokyo, five minutes from Old Town Pasadena and 12 minutes from Flora’s Falafel.

Ever since the fish tank fire at the Café Eilat in Valley Village, I’ve gravitated to a new hangout on Burbank Boulevard — Flora’s Falafel. Consider this menu, chalked onto a small board at Flora’s, a small cafe in Valley Village:

$3.99 white bean soup

$3.99 split pea soup

$3.99 vegetable soup

Here I am at Flora’s Falafel. One of the customers orders the soup. I expect him to be served with a small cup, perhaps a Ritz cracker packet, but no! Here comes a large bowl of steaming broth, with a side of pita. A meal in itself.

Now that the economy is sunk, I notice these things. You could serve an entire family of five for $20 and have leftovers. If your kids like vegetables.

But I do not order the soup. I order the $3.99 falafel sandwich, “to go.”

The falafel cook cracks open a fresh pita, a form of Middle Eastern bread.

“Spicy?” he asks.

“Spicy,” I reply.

He isn’t sure.

“Spicy?” he asks again.

“Yes, thank you,” I reply. “Spicy!”

He shrugs and gets out a bowl of garbanzo bean mash, which, while I watch, is scooped out into little balls and dumped into fairly fresh oil.

Meanwhile, the soup customer begins to compliment the quality and quantity, not only of his soup, but of my pending falafel. At first I think he and the falafel cook are speaking Hebrew, but sometimes it sounds like Spanish. I can understand every other word.

While the garbanzo balls sizzle, the cook slits a huge piece of pita bread and, using it as a pocket, begins to stuff it with tahini, pickled vegetables, chopped lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, more dressing, parsley.

Then he looks at me and says “Spicy?” I nod. He shrugs and adds some green sauce.

Suddenly, I remember. There are different kinds of falafels. Traditional Arabs fry them from seasoned fava beans, although the Israeli-style falafel, made from chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), has made inroads. Like President Obama says, we are a patchwork people.

I stop thinking and watch the falafel cook. He removes the fried falafel balls and puts them on paper to drain. Then he cuts up two potatoes and drops them into the fryer.

I watch him stuff six or seven falafel balls into the pita pocket. He mashes them in and drizzles more sauce on top.

The soup customer is impressed. “To dah! De me kleine sopa para llevar!” he says, which is French for “Garcon! Please add another bowl of ‘soup to go’ to my order!”

The soup customer turns to me and said, “He likes you!”

He points at the falafel cook, who by now is carefully garnishing the top of the pita with fresh-fried, French-fried potatoes.

The falafel cook paper-wraps the sandwich with a flourish.

I thank him. He smiles. I nod at the soup customer. Then I leave.

Twelve minutes later, I am in my own kitchen, unwrapping this incredible meal.


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime local resident. E-mail her at">anitasusan.brenner@  La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

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