Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Maya Fardoun, one of the owners of Falafill Detroit. If you are unfamiliar, Falafill is a fast, from-scratch Middle Eastern restaurant in Midtown. The M1 rail project has sort of obscured Falafill, but it is just north of Great Lakes Coffee, on Woodward, right next to Passport Pizzza.
Maya owns the restaurant with her brother Kassem, who handles the kitchen, and cooking aspect of the operation. Falafill is the first of its kind in Michigan, and 3rd restaurant of a brand that has taken off in Chicago. Falafill has two spots in the Windy City, and they are looking to expand to other states as well.
The concept comes from Executive Chef Maher Chebaro, he opened the first one in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, in 2009, and has gained a lot of attention for the fresh, fast ingredients, and putting out some of the best falafel. The focus is using from-scratch recipes to bring the great taste of Lebanese cuisine to a quick, easy, and accessible format. Nothing on the menu is canned, or frozen, and once you grab a plate, you can tell they have achieved just that.
If you are unfamiliar with falafel, its a delicious, lightly fried ball, or patty, made from chickpeas, or fava beans, and sometimes a combo of both. The idea made its way from Egypt to the rest of the region, and has gained global popularity. It is typically served with a pita, or in a wrap, and topped with tahini based dressings, pickled veggies, other grains, salads, and spicy sauces. For many, it serves as a meat substitute, because of its high protein content.
Besides falafel, if you stop by, there is a also marinated steak, chicken, turkey, or spicy sujuk sausage. The protein is accompanied by a full vegetable “mezza” bar, where you can choose from all the fresh, and delicious sides.
“The trick is not frying it too long. If you do, you lose the moisture. When we tried falafill in Chicago, we loved it. Some of the best falafel we have found anywhere, outside of Lebanon,” Maya said.
Her family is originally from Lebanon, but she was the 3rd generation to be born in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. She lived there, going to school with American kids, where she learned English, exploring Liberia, and was there until the Civil War started in the 1990’s. From Liberia, her family moved back to Lebanon, where her father, a born businessman, found it difficult to start his own operation. At that time Lebanon was recovering from their own Civil War that essentially destroyed the country in the 1980’s.
“At that time my brother was going to college in California, and my father decided we should move to the United States and figure it out here. We stopped in Michigan on the way there, and my family talked us into staying. We ended up opening a pizza place. My brother worked there since he was 16. That’s how he got so good with the food industry,” Maya mentioned.
Our conversation shifted from food, and I was curious about some of the other things that Maya has going on in Detroit. She is also a professional photographer, and has her own T-shirt line.
“I never wanted any part of a 9-5 job. So boring. When I was younger, about 17 years ago, we got lost going somewhere down in Detroit, and I ended up exploring the Fisher Plant. I got so hooked. I started exploring, taking pictures, and literally fell in love Detroit,” Maya said.
Naturally, her parents didn’t want her climbing around abandoned building snapping photographs, but she always convinced them otherwise, and continued to explore Detroit.
“Back then, Detroit was a little different. So many of the buildings could be explored, and not many people were downtown at all. It was a really different place then today. I guess having seen what Civil Wars can do, I found beauty in the damage. I thought it was so gorgeous. Its not like I want Detroit to be destroyed, but it was, and it is the reality,” Maya continued. “Detroit is 300 years old, and in some ways its only 3 years old. There is this whole new story unfolding.”
It was refreshing to talk with Maya. She is not the sort of person who is excited talking about herself. She was constantly asking me about my story, how I came to be asking her questions in a falafel shop on Woodward. Its a rare trait these days for someone to be reticent about discussing themselves. We have crossed a threshold in modern society where coming off as self effacing, humble, or unwilling to self promote, is seen as a weakness, or something to be treated. I ended up speaking more about myself, and how I ended up in Detroit, then I ever had before.
Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Catering is available. Give them a call. Its delicious, I tried everything.