Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beet Greens and Blues: The Falafel-Off

I’ve always loved cover songs. There’s something eminently delightful about hearing a favorite song reinterpreted, especially when that reinterpretation occurs decades later, in different languages, or across radically different genres. There’s Cat Power’s take on “I Found A Reason”… Cloud Cult doing “Mr. Tamborine Man”. Covers can be wonderful, but at the same time, I think it’s easy to harbor a sense of loyalty to an artist – hence the oft-repeated “the Original was WAY better” shtick. Peter Gabriel just released Scratch My Back, a selection of orchestral covers of Regina Spektor, Bon Iver, Magnetic Fields, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire and Radiohead songs, and the covers are bound to elicit more than a few lamentations from purists. I’m all for authenticity in the music world, but a good cover song is a beautiful thing, shooting winks to the original while going somewhere new. Kind of like a certain PDX food cart. Stick with me here.

(Tzfat, home of Kabbalah and THE BEST FALAFEL EVER.)

Inspired by the goods served up by European falafel and kebab carts, the owners of Magic Beans are putting out a sort of cover album with their menu. By serving up re-imagined Middle-Eastern fare up at Mississippi Marketplace (the bustling food cart plaza in NoPo on Mississippi and Skidmore) Magic Beans is up against a Goliath of a culinary original. I’ve spent the past few weeks in Israel, on a culinary tour of all things, noshing my way through the Land of Milk and Honey… and Olives and Hummus and, yes, Falafel. It was, uh,‘Thesis Research’. Anyway, as he was assembling my lunch, falafel fryer Scott got a bit nervous that I’d judge my lunch against the “Best Falafel Ever” in the Holy Land, and laughingly informed me that their food isn’t exactly ‘traditional.’

While tipping their hat to the ol’ fried chickpea balls in a pita, the falafel at Magic Beans is simply a different breed – much more herby, crisp, topped with a rotating selection of unique condiments, and served up with great fries. This week they had black bean hummus and winter squash ghanoush, and the fries came with a choice of lemon pepper or rosemary salt. The sandwiches are $4 (a combo with fries and iced tea is $6) and filled with tasty additions like feta, crunchy cabbage, tomatoes, and pickled peppers. The flavors were great – fresh, savory, a little spicy – and the lemon pepper fries were beyond delicious. Thinking back to the falafel restaurant on the top of the hill in Tzfat, I might put on my food snob hat and say the original was WAY better, but the truth is that Magic Beans is doing their own thing, and they’re doing it really well.

Magic Beans

Location: N Mississippi at Skidmore in Mississippi Marketplace
Hours: Daily, open around 11 until late afternoon, with plans for
late-night soon.


  1. next on your list of portland food cart meals: Banh Mi!!!
    tell me how it is? please??

  2. When we come to visit in April, please take us to your cart fave's. Looking forward to it!