I’ve walked by this cart countless times. Usually I am in a rush so all I can manage to do is to take in the delightfully smoky air as I pass it by. It is quite easily spotted as it has a constant billow of smoke churning out of the top. It is also hard to miss a cart adorned with hanging plants, garlic bulbs, giant containers of imported olive oil, bountiful piles of fresh bread. Did I mention the smells? What is this cart about?
Today I set out specifically to find out. Since I work only three blocks away and was in need of some fresh air I decided to go with my gut instinct and follow that smell. Had I just googled “20th and market food cart” i would have found countless posts, photos, even videos cataloguing ‘Christo’s Falafel Cart’. I’m glad I didn’t as the element of surprise is such a foreign concept to me these days.
And surprised I was. As I walked up there were five or six people standing around waiting to order, in the process of ordering or else peering into this somewhat mysterious food cart that at first glance appears to be a little out of its element. That’s the beauty of it though; once you walk up to it you begin to understand that the placement of the cart, the decor, the food, everything has been painstakingly strategized. Then you see (or hear) Constandinos.
First, let me say he is impeccably dressed in a black chef’s coat. He is a very loud talker and it is best that he doesn’t catch you off guard because his prideful boasts could very well be mistaken for anger. His bombastic rants mock you for even considering going somewhere else for lunch today.
He constantly tends to the marinated chunks of chicken sizzling on the grill using an antiquated copper pot filled with some special sauce. Each time the sauce hits the grill and smoke lifts the smell that originally beckoned me wafts into the air.
What I learned from the others in line is that he prepares one dish per day. Usually he gives you a taste of chicken and a taste of falafel along with bountiful sides du jour. Maybe it is because I told him it was my first time there or maybe it was just miscommunication but he decided to start me off with just the falafel. It’s sort of unspoken that you don’t question Constandinos. He asked me if I would rather have a sandwich or platter. I went with the platter. Price: 7$
The oregano encrusted falafel fried in such a way it was blackened but without being burnt. This gave it an even more interesting texture and flavor than other falafel I have tried. After splitting one of the crunchy little balls open it exposed a bright green center.The falafel themselves seemed to be missing a key component, the chickpeas. The filling looked and tasted like a mash of parsley and garlic. It was served with hummus and an even creamier tahini garlic sauce over noodles with garbanzo beans thrown in, all of which was served on top of crunchy (yes crunchy) romaine lettuce. It was a veritable pasta salad extravaganza. Oh! And the bread, the meal comes with not only pita but a fresh challah roll, for soaking up every last bit of the platter. Finally, red and green grapes for dessert, which acted as a perfect palette cleanser since my mouth was still tingling from all the garlic I had consumed. When I asked Constandino if is was okay if I photographed him and his cart he answered “you do whatever makes you happy”. Which appears to be exactly what he is doing and doing it well.