Adams Morgan Acquires Late-Night Jones for Falafel

In Adams Morgan, Amsterdam Falafelshop offers an alternative to jumbo-slice pizza joints.
In Adams Morgan, Amsterdam Falafelshop offers an alternative to jumbo-slice pizza joints. (Photos By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 15, 2005

Well past midnight, as oldies blare from a satellite radio in an upstart Adams Morgan eatery, the believers and converts -- a guy with tattooed arms, a woman with a nose ring, a guy with a "Free Michael Jackson" T-shirt -- come trickling in.

"I'd rather go here than anywhere else," Dan Bailey, 28, said as he lined up for a falafel sandwich, a Middle Eastern snack of fried ground-chickpea patties stuffed into pita bread.

In a neighborhood famous among late-night partiers as the land of jumbo-slice pizza, the falafel sandwich is offering another way to refuel after hours of club-hopping.

Since it opened last fall in the 2400 block of 18th Street NW, the Amsterdam Falafelshop has flourished. On any given night, hundreds of people climb a half-flight of brick steps into the sliver of a storefront, with its hardwood floors, multihued walls, Amsterdam motif (some signs are in Dutch) and eight tables -- four inside and four on the patio.

"People come in and say, 'Thank you so much for opening. Thank you for not having us eat pizza,' " said Arianne Bennett, 36, a Web page designer who grew up in the District and opened the shop with her husband, Scott Bennett, 54. "It's the strangest thing."

As befits the bar- and club-intensive neighborhood, the doors stay open late: until 2:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, about the same hours as the three jumbo-slice shops that are steps away. And the Bennetts often are ready to pitch in at a moment's notice: They live upstairs.

The menu is minimalist: falafel sandwiches, French fries (deep-fried twice, in the European style), soft drinks and "virgin" brownies, a joking reference to Amsterdam coffee shops that sell marijuana-laced brownies. That's all, except for the occasional chicken schwarma special and the free toppings bar, where customers can add grilled eggplant, hummus, cabbage and more to their sandwiches.

The ponytailed Bennett, who is part Native American, said he often longed for an alternative to the late-night offerings in Adams Morgan, where he was a bartender for two decades.

After vacationing in Amsterdam many times and frequenting the falafel shops popularized by immigrants there, Bennett had an idea: This could work in Adams Morgan.

He hired chef Walid Abuelhawa, 52, a Palestinian immigrant and longtime local chef who had worked as a child at his father's falafel shop in Jerusalem.

Five days a week, Abuelhawa is in the compact kitchen, chopping, mixing and grilling as he whips up his father's old falafel recipe and prepares the toppings.

"I'm surprised the success we are seeing. I'm really surprised," he said proudly.

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