I love a good falafel sandwich. The splash screen of my phone is a photo of me holding my favorite one from a vendor in Paris. Recently I wrote about two Middle Eastern restaurants where I chose the falafel sandwich as my entree rather than one of their other offerings.
So I was excited when I started to see signs that a new falafel shop would open in the former Blackwater Barbecue space on Edgewater Drive in College Park. Hubbly Bubbly opened last weekend, but it may want to consider closing down for a while and reorganizing. (I say reorganize as if there was any organization to begin with, but we’ll just let that stand.)
First of all, no, I don’t know what the name Hubbly Bubbly has to do with falafels. Frankly, it makes me think of one of the boba tea places that serve tapioca pearls in their drinks. (Is that fad over yet? Please?) If there is a logic to it, that explanation is not shared with us either on the website or the menu.
In fact very little information is shared in either of those places, and even less at the shop. So, for the uninitiated, let’s start with some information. A falafel is a sort of fritter fashioned out of ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans, if you prefer) and deep fried. They can be round balls, they can be flattened disks. The word falafel has also come to mean the sandwich device wherein the fritters are contained. The bread for the sandwich might be a pita pocket or a lavosh or similar flatbread. Therein are piled any combination of such items as hummus, tomatoes, onions, tabouli and sauce, such as tzatziki.
Hubbly Bubbly offers three sandwiches: falafel, chicken or lamb and steak, although the staff apparently refers to all three as a type of falafel. But each of those is available not just as a sandwich but also as a salad bowl or hummus bowl. You know what that means, don’t you? Well, if you don’t there’s nothing on the menu that will explain it for you. (And at the online ordering site, about which I will have more in a moment, each variation has the exact same copy-and-paste description.)
I arrived at HB on a recent evening. There were a few people eating at some of the outdoor tables but no one inside. In fact, the only other customers were at the counter paying for their purchases, so I got into line and waited my turn.
When it finally came and I told the young woman what I would like, she looked at me as though I had broken some sort of rule. Had I already placed my order? she asked of me. Because you’re supposed to order down there, she said pointing to the other end of the preparation area.
I stepped back and looked around, wondering how I could have missed the sign telling me where to order. But there was none. Don’t you think that would be something you’d have in the original plan, especially when a five-foot-high glass divider separates the guests from the preparation/order area?
And what I found even more annoying was that the two sandwich fillers/bowl builders had been standing there with nothing to do the whole time I was waiting in line in the wrong place. Does no one have the enterprise to step up and say, “Excuse me, sir, have you already placed your order? If not I’d be happy to help you over here.” And it’s very possible that the two young women just standing there staring at me thought I had placed my order online, because this place really seems to encourage that, especially at the website. Still, the question of preorder could have been proffered.
So I dutifully went to the unmarked ordering spot and placed my order, standing on tip-toe to be heard over the plate of glass, the sandwich maker doing the same thing when she had a question for me.
I ordered a falafel with hummus, tabouli and tzatziki to go. I also asked for a side of Mazel Tots, their version of tater tots, just because I thought it was a cute name. (See? Even I’m not immune to a clever marketing ploy.)
We don’t have any Mazel Tots, I was told. Seriously? You have three side items on your menu, two of which are falafel balls, which is one of the sandwich fillings, and pita chips. How difficult is it to keep that third one in stock?
I left considerably less bubbly than when I had arrived. Whether I was still hubbly or not I cannot say because I have no idea what that means.
I should mention here that at no time during my visit did I see any adult supervision.
I’d like to say it was all worth it but my sandwich was less than acceptable. The pita bread had seen fresher times, and the falafel fritters — described on the menu as pucks but having more in common with tiddly winks — were dry.
I like the idea of a modern day falafel shop. So do the owners, apparently. It seems the entire operation is designed to become a franchise. It’s easy to come to that conclusion when a new restaurant opens and one of the links on its web page is for Locations, plural, when only one currently exists. (That and the link to a franchise application form at the bottom of the main page.)
But you’ve got to have something to franchise first. Something people will want. If there are others like me, they’ll want a big, overstuffed sandwich filled with well-spiced fritters and brilliantly flavored salads and add-ons. And, if they’re like me, they’ll drive past Hubbly Bubbly and go down the road to Mediterranean Deli on Fairbanks Avenue and get one. And with stellar service, too.
Hubbly Bubbly is at 3405 Edgewater Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Oddly, the menu on the website does not have the prices (although you can see them if you click the online ordering link). The falafels are $4.99, chicken variation is $5.99 and $6.99 for the lamb and steak. The phone number, which is not printed on the takeout menu or offered on the website (?!), is 407-985-5841.