Shawafel plate (half falafel, half shawarma), $14.99.
Chris Preovolos/The Advocate
LAYLA’S FALAFEL: 926 HIGH RIDGE ROAD
As owner Dino Sakakini tells it, he owned a Subway sandwich franchise in Bridgeport where he regularly made off-the-menu falafel sandwiches that garnered a cult following.
It soon became clear to the Palestinian-born restaurateur that he could make it on his own, selling strictly Middle Eastern food in Fairfield County.
In 2000, Sakakini opened Layla’s Falafel on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield. A second location on High Ridge Road in Stamford was added three years ago and a long-awaited third location in Downtown Stamford is slated to open in the coming weeks.
Sakaini leased a space on Main St. in Columbus Park and a “coming soon” sign went up, but a year-and-a-half later, there is still no Layla’s downtown.
His brother in Fairfield told me Dino gets caught up in the minutiae, like picking silverware. Later, over a cezve of Turkish coffee, longtime-customer Yoel Iphraim puts it this way: “he lives his business; just like every small business owner, he is intimately involved in the details.”
I lost track of the developments downtown after the Advocate moved to industrially-zoned Springdale, where I can only look back at the luxury of walking to lunch with wistful affection. But as a downtown-ish resident, I will certainly welcome an operational Layla’s within walking distance from home.
The Main St. restaurant will be a little more upscale, with table service, separate lunch and dinner menus and an additional prix fixe offering. This will be the first Layla’s in close proximity to the corporate crowd as well as nightlife and Sakaini plans to cater to this clientele.
Admittedly, I haven’t gotten that deep into the menu, I usually order the falafel and lamb shawarma sandwiches but there are a lot of other popular items, soups, kabobs, salads, stuffed grape leaves, etc.
“The food of the Middle East is ‘the original food,’ ” says Sakaini, conjuring up references to the Cradle of Civilization. From there it has spread far and wide, through trade, various empires and centuries of emigration. Sakaini’s Middle Eastern salad is virtually identical to the one I ate every night when I lived with my Greek-American grandfather for a couple of years in college.
Layla’s has been consistently rated as the top Middle Eastern restaurant in the county by the readers of the Fairfield County Weekly, edging out Stamford’s Myrna’s Mediterranean Bistro which has also opened a second, more upscale restaurant in Greenwich. One notable difference is that Myrna’s sells beer and wine, but Sakaini promises me this will eventually be available at the Columbus Park location.
Yesterday, I ordered the shawafel plate, a combination of falafel and lamb shawarma served with pita, a Middle Eastern salad, hummus and mujadara, a rice dish made with lentils and onion (which is terrific). Despite my reputation for having a bottomless-pit of a stomach, this is an obscene amount of food and I needed a little help polishing it off.
This afternoon, Iphraim–the friend and customer–pours another syrupy Turkish coffee into his paper Dixie cup, telling me somehow it is better served that way. “You come in here and you feel at home,” he says, and the both of them send me off with advice on how to prepare my own in the traditional manner.
UPDATE: As of Nov. 30, Layla’s downtown is still not open.