Erica Strait didn’t set out to turn a homely, deep-fried chickpea ball into something hip. It happened naturally, as the energetic chef/caterer launched Foxy Falafel with a minimalist cool befitting the Middle Eastern snack: under a tent-covered fryer at farmers’ markets, accompanied by a pedal-powered smoothie maker (a bicycle-mounded blender; customers received a 50-cent discount for pedaling).
This past year, Strait added a Foxy Falafel food truck and then opened a small storefront in St. Paul. Caribe’s colorful tones were replaced by a more subdued DIY aesthetic that includes jelly-jar pendant lights. Order a “stoplight” to try all three flavors of extra-crunchy falafel: traditional parsley green, beet red, and yellow Indian curry. Strait expanded the menu to include shawarma-style spiced turkey, ground chicken formed into a less-succulent gyro meat, and a lamb patty, seasoned like merguez sausage.
Snack-friendly sides include smoky baba ghanoush, twice-fried potatoes tossed with basil pesto, and golden, lightly fried cauliflower florets slathered in Day-Glo saffron aioli. The fryer turns cheese curds into warm, indulgent putty—the one caloric splurge on a largely health-focused menu. (The leftover fryer oil, if it makes you feel better, is converted into biodiesel.)
Strait’s biggest test may be delegating her vision. One afternoon, when Strait wasn’t at the register, I placed an order about a half-hour before restaurant close. As I finished my last bite, 10 minutes after the open sign had been flicked off, a staffer began upending the chairs at surrounding tables, practically barricading me into the corner. When a food-truck closes shop, the crew simply shuts the window and drives off. But at a sit-down restaurant, a brief grace period would feel more hospitable.
791 Raymond Ave., St. Paul