A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Mirror on April 29, 2010
When have you actually seen falafels being deep-fried? At most run-of-the-mill Lebanese eateries, focused on their beef and chicken laden vertical spits, falafels are but an afterthought. A pile of them usually sits in a stainless steel tray under a heat lamp, waiting to be ordered by the odd vegetarian. Who knows how long they’ve been there—hours, days? By the time they end up in a sandwich, they are invariably stale and soggy. Not so at Freiha, a falafel specialist in the Chomedey district of Laval.
Fresh mint and parsley garnished falafels are just one of the reasons to take a trip to Chomedey, Laval
Freiha is an austere hole-in-the-wall that makes falafel, and nothing but. I would’ve never found this place had I not read about it on “…an endless banquet,” a fantastic Montreal food blog by former Mirror restaurant critic A.J. Kinik and Michelle Marek. Tiny and decrepit as the locale may be, Freiha makes falafel like nobody else—the best by far that I’ve eaten around Montreal. The key to Freiha’s superiority is that the falafels are cooked in small batches and are never more than a few minutes out of the fryer. When they land in your pita bread, they’re still warm and have a delightfully crunchy crust.
Freiha will top your sandwich ($2.50) with fresh tomato, those alarmingly pink pickled turnips, pickled Lebanese cucumbers, and—unlike anywhere else—a big handful of coarsely chopped fresh mint and parsley. All of these ingredients are then generously doused in an unctuous tarator sauce—a mix of sesame paste, lemon juice and garlic. This is not the runny, white liquid squirted out of a plastic bottle that you see at most Lebanese joints; at Freiha, it’s a rich sauce so thick it needs to be scooped onto the sandwich. The finished product is a wonderful juxtaposition of contrasting flavours and textures—the crunchy falafel balls, the crisp turnips and pickles, the pleasantly gooey sauce. And the copious herbs impart a delightful freshness to the sandwich.
If you don’t plan to eat your sandwich right away, get a falafel six pack instead ($6), which comes with all of the condiments on the side and a set of pita breads.
If having a superior falafel is not enticing enough, there are other reasons to make the trip out to Chomedey. One is the Adonis supermarket on Boul. Curé-Labelle, right next to Freiha. Adonis, for the uninitiated, is a local supermarket chain specializing in Middle Eastern food. There you’ll find an impressive if not dizzying array of products (cheeses, meats, olives, nuts, fruits and vegetables…). Another reason is Noix Saïd, across Curé-Labelle from Adonis. In addition to top quality nuts, this store sells a variety of dried fruits and snack foods. Everything is fresh and the prices are great—well worth a visit.
But for some of you, the real clincher is likely to be the nearby Value Village—only one block up Curée-Labelle, at Boul. Notre Dame. In my experience, this location is generally much less picked over than any of the locations on the Island of Montreal.
If you don’t have a car, I suggest that you make a weekend bicycle adventure out of your trip to Chomedey. To get there from the Plateau, ride all the way up the northbound Route Verte (bike path) from Parc Lafontaine. When you get to Boul. Gouin, at the northern edge of the island, turn left. Follow the bike path along the riverbank all the way to Boul. Laurentien. There, you’ll cross the river via the Lachapelle Bridge. A bit after the bridge, turn left onto Boul. Lévesque and, a few blocks later, right onto 81st Avenue. Follow 81st two blocks up, until you hit Boul. Pérron. To your left, your delicious reward awaits you.
It should take about an hour-and-a-half to get there by bike. For the most part, it’s a beautiful and relaxing ride through tree-lined streets and riverside parks. If it’s a bit too far, consider taking the metro part of the way—to Henri-Bourassa, for instance—and continuing by bicycle.
Address: 3858 Pérron (Laval)
Phone: (450) 686-2446
Hours: Daily 11:30a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Best features: the only feature—falafel
Wheelchair Access: Yes.
Vegetarian friendly: Extremely.
Credit cards: Cash only
Price: Falafel sandwich $2.50; half dozen falafel with condiments and bread $6
Rating: ***3/4 out of ****