Two decades after opening the Shalom Kosher Market grocery in Wheaton in 1974, co-owner Max Dekelbaum created a spacious cafe next door that bears his name. Hamburgers and deli sandwiches are strong sellers. But a more interesting attraction is Max's Goes Middle Eastern, an Israeli-style, build-your-own falafel and shawarma counter where folks line up, particularly at lunchtime.
Stuffed in a fresh pita pocket with a choice of assorted pickled vegetables, the moist, compact and judiciously spiced falafel chickpea croquettes (whole order, $5.95) are some of the best in the area. A bright-tasting and very lemony tahini is served alongside. The equally pleasant and juicy sliced-to-order shawarma of turkey layered with lamb (whole, $7.95) is served with the same crunchy pickled onion, cauliflower, eggplant and more.
Across the way is the Marketplace, a prepared-foods counter that is open for the 2 1/2 days preceding the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Fridays. Here we found perfectly cooked London broil, available thinly sliced in a light gravy ($14.99 per pound) and in kebab chunks skewered with button mushrooms and yellow bell pepper ($13.49 per pound). A favorite was the excellent, spreadable and gently seasoned chicken salad ($7.99 per pound), far better than the flavor-shy Moroccan chicken tagine or the dry sesame chicken.
Vegetarians have ample opportunities with a new take on ratatouille ($5.99 per pound) in which squash, carrots and celery, cut into large chunks, are dressed in a rich, slightly sweet tomato sauce. A string bean salad ($4.49 per pound) with red and yellow bell peppers is healthful-tasting and vibrant in color. A little pesto tops a clever stack of an earthy portobello mushroom, ripe tomato and disk of eggplant ($2.50 per stack).
There was not much wild rice in the wild-basmati rice pilaf salad ($7.99 per pound). But this is an enjoyable medley of mostly basmati rice with a crunch from walnuts and sweet bell pepper.
-- Walter Nicholls (Oct. 31, 2007)