It ain't all that pretty to look at either, but, yum, it's good.
On a recent blustery, miserable winter day, a bowl of this rich, tangy Lebanese stew was perfect.
Made from cooked fava and garbanzo beans, seasoned with spices and brightened with lemon juice, the foul (pronounced fool) hit the spot. Foul also is an affordable, hearty and healthy lunch at just $5 for a bowl including a pita bread.
The concoction was the slowest of the lunchtime selections served up at Express Mediterranean Cuisine, the new inhabitants of a tiny shedlike structure across from Comcast Arena on Hewitt Avenue in Everett. It took all of five minutes to heat it up.
No longer a hotdog stand, this little take-out joint now serves the Middle Eastern equivalent of fast food: falafel, gyros and beef or chicken shawarmas. It's a walk-up window only, but there are plenty of benches nearby, and it's a great spot to grab a sandwich before heading to a game or concert at the arena.
Khadija "Kay" Karram started the business last month.
Friendly and engaging, Karram explained a bit about herself as she busily prepared four lunches. She grew up in Beirut, recently moved to Everett, holds degrees in both banking and finance, and wanted to open her own business.
The end of the year brought many joys. In addition to starting the restaurant, she also gave birth to her first child.
Watching her deftly prepare sandwiches and juggle special sauces, it's easy to tell that she's destined for success.
Still, it's the food that counts.
In addition to the yummy stew, our colleagues ordered almost everything from the short menu posted outside the to-go window.
The dolmas (five for $2) are a must, especially if you haven't had them before. They are grape leaves stuffed with a variety of fillings, from rice to eggplant and either meat or meatless. The dolmas at Express were chewy, filled with a nutty tasting rice mixture infused with a delicate aroma of spices -- coriander, parsley and mint come to mind -- and a big hit of lemon.
This was all wrapped in a soft grape leaf gently bathed in olive oil. The dolmas often come with a side of yogurt sauce but these needed no such adornment.
A co-worker ordered the Lebanese falafel sandwich ($4.50) which she said was delicious and messy, but in a good way: The pita was fresh, the falafel nicely spiced and complemented by the lettuce, tomatoes and tangy tzaziki sauce. The sandwich was topped with black olives.
Falafel comes four ways here. You can choose to have it styled either Lebanese, with tahini; Greek, with a yogurt sauce; Italian, served on a sub roll with mozzarella, pesto and tomato sauce; or American, on a burger bun with ranch and mayonnaise.
We sampled the lamb and beef gyro sandwich composed of grilled, thinly sliced beef and lamb in a pita ($4.50). The pita was filled to the brim with lots of skillfully spiced meat, meaning that the flavor was subtle and well-balanced. There are gyros out there where all you taste is feta cheese or tzaziki sauce. Not at Express, where all the ingredients are represented.
The grilled chicken shawarma ($4.50) was tasty, and a good choice for light appetites.
There also are salads and soups ($3 to $6).
The food would be a bit better with a couple of easy fixes. Instead of using bottled lemon juice, a squeeze from a fresh fruit would add that much more freshness. Rather than use falafel balls that already were fried, fry them to order, even if it means making customers wait a minute longer.
These aren't complaints. Express Mediterranean was fresh, healthy and delicious, a welcome exotic addition to downtown Everett.
Express Mediterranean Cuisine
2005 Hewitt Ave., Everett; 425-493-3935.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Vegetarian: Plenty of options.
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