Get ready for falafel wars in downtown Orlando.
Hubbly Bubbly, the silly-named quick serve restaurant that specializes in the chickpea fritters, has announced that it will open its second location near the corner of Orange Avenue and Washington Street.
Anyone familiar with food options in the downtown business district will recognize that to be the location of Cafe Annie, which has been serving a some-kind-of-wonderful falafel for about as long as I can remember.
I mean that literally, at least in terms of my memory of Orlando eateries. Owner Joseph Sebaali isn’t quite sure how long he’s been serving is Mediterranean food, either. We both figure that it’s been about 28 years, right about the time that I came to town to start reviewing restaurants. I’m guessing only Mama B’s Subs has been there longer.
Sebaali first opened Cafe Annie in the space that is now a car dealership, at Jefferson Street. He was made to move next door for the cars — originally tiny Renaults, now tiny Fiats — in 2003. He named the restaurant for his wife: “I figured if I named it for her she’d come here to work,” he said. “But that didn’t work.” Sebaali’s falafel, moist fritters with myriad seasonings served on pita bread with creamy tzatziki sauce, became my standard by which all falafel sandwiches should be judged. (Only L’As du Fallafel in Paris exceeds it.)
So then, Hubbly Bubbly.
The restaurant, a quick-serve concept designed, it seems, by committee, opened in 2013 in a free-standing building on Edgewater Drive just north of Par Avenue in College Park. As I noted in my review from September of that year, it had issues. One hopes they’ve been addressed; one assumes so if the owners feel confident in expanding.
When I first heard that HB was moving downtown, I wondered if they were taking over the Cafe Annie space. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Sebaali was retiring.
But no. Hubbly Bubbly is going in next door, in the building owned by the same landlord. Sounds to me like a lousy landlord. Sebaali said he tried talking to his landlord, explaining that his menu is very close to what Hubbly Bubbly serves, but to no avail. (Let this be a lesson to anyone opening a business in a rental space: make sure you have an exclusivity clause in your lease agreement.)
Sebaali told me that he can serve his falafels for 99 cents; Hubbly Bubbly charged a whopping $4.99 when I reviewed it two and a half years ago.
This could get interesting.