There are times in the theater of life and cuisine when the supporting act steals the show. Such is the case at Moshe’s Golden Falafel, the latest in renowned chef Andrew Weissman’s serial forays into the culinary and business frontier. The marquis says falafel, but it is the pita that has proven worthy of equal billing. Even if the falafel would have been perfect from the very beginning, it would still be a close tie.
“There are some things we nailed right out of the gate, and there are some things we are still working on” Weissman said.
The falafel has come a long way in its seven week debut and it is beginning to hit its stride, as the moisture content and umami quality wins the battle of Weissman’s strict adherence to pure, natural, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher.
Three weeks into operations, Moshe’s Golden Falafel finally stopped running out of food before the end of a shift.
“We couldn’t make it fast enough,” Weissman said. “We’d open the doors and they’d be lining up, and I never advertised, I never do. We ran out every day for the first three weeks. Now we can pretty much serve the full lunch and dinner service throughout the day.”
It’s risky business to be an instantaneous hit when a restaurateur hasn’t had the chance to work out the kinks, especially when launching a whole new concept.
“I always swim against the current,” Weissman said. “And my restaurants are always a riff on the original.”
Weissman did not set out to open a traditional Israeli falafel joint, which has brought some criticism from those expecting an exact replica of the original Israeli street food.
“To start with, whether it’s falafel or any other cuisine, you don’t have the water, or even the air for that matter, of Italy, Israel, or France, (so) you’re never going to fully replicate a cuisine,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who come in here are thrilled and we already have a lot of repeat business. Still, until we have a full-month of business to tally, I don’t know if we’re making or losing money yet. I know some of our ingredients are costly and we are serving a high-quality, made-to-order dish for only $7.”
Moshe’s opened in Olmos Park, one of San Antonio’s up-and-coming foodie corridors.
“Olmos Park and Monte Vista have a lot of rooftops but not a lot of restaurants,” Weissman said. “Olmos Park had some holes in the food line-up. I’m not the first to start to change that – Mixtli, Folc, Damien at Vatel, they were all here – but I think we are definitely a value add.”
Location is considered, among other factors, the holy grail of restaurant success. Weissman’s success with the Sandbar, Il Sogno Osteria, The Luxury, and his previous 11-year run with Le Rêve still begs the question, “Why Olmos Park? Why not tried and proven neighborhoods?”
“It’s five blocks from my house and I find that very life-enriching,” Weissman said. “This can become a very walkable part of our city and I want to be a part of that. And my neighbors are my clientele. We are known entities to one another.”
Weissman has not only challenged himself with a new food concept, but also ventured out to make it vegetarian, vegan, and kosher.
“I didn’t originally set out to make it kosher, but my sister told me you really owe it to the Jewish community to make it kosher,” he said.
“At first, I said ‘no way’ but then my next thought was ‘I’m a Jew’ and after reflecting on my heritage and learning what it would take to make it kosher, we sort of went for it. With the help of Rabbi Avraham Scheinberg, I began learning so much about kashrut and Judaism that I found very enriching.”
As Andrew delved further into the process he found that this new method was not going to work.
“When I open up a new restaurant, I like to operate on a shoestring budget. I buy used equipment.”
He had already purchased much of the equipment, and since it had previously been used to prepare non-kosher food, proper sanitation proved to be a challenge.
“I had to get rid of most of it and start all over buying new equipment at a much higher price,” he said. “We had already planned to buy some of the most expensive, best ingredients available, so now our budget was really going to be blown.”
In addition to the increased equipment costs, the restaurant would have to close during restaurant “golden hours” – Friday night and all-day Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath – to be considered a legitimate Jewish restaurant. So really, from a restaurant business standpoint, this kosher stuff wasn’t going work out.
Oddly, these hours tied in to the reason why Weismann closed Le Rêve a few years back.
“At Le Rêve we were open for 11 years and we always made money and right up until the time we closed we had a three-month wait list, but we were never home. We closed it because I did not want my kids to grow up without a dad around,” he said. “Now I’m going to observe my first Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) in 20 years. And the funny thing is, we won’t lose money because on Sunday people come in droves and we don’t have the usual stresses of the weekend business.”
The freedom Andrew and his wife Maureen seek has not yet come to fruition.
“Right now we’re here day and night (except for Shabbat) until we get it right and create a system others can manage at this level of quality,” he said. “Fortunately, our other restaurants have attained that so we can be here for this.”
The food at Moshe’s is a slight variant of the Middle Eastern staples with some local flair. In addition to roasted red peppers, hummus, tahini, roasted eggplant spread, Israeli salad and an array of pickles, all made in-house and unprocessed, there are the ‘riffs’ the chef talked about – diced onions and cilantro, which are more of a Mexican street taco garnish.
The list of predictable and non-predictable items that embellish the falafel, pita, or plate is extensive and most notably is the roasted cauliflower, definitely a vegan crowd-pleaser. The harissa, a Moroccan chili paste, schug, an aromatic Yemenite inspired Israeli green chili paste, and sambal oelek, an Indonesian chili paste are lined up alongside more familiar varieties including ketchup. All the add-ons are included with the $7 order except for the French fries, fried onions, southern fried eggplant, and extra pita, all of which are a couple of extra bucks.
Weissman brought in a special fire-burning pita oven that is largely responsible for this welcome addition to San Antonio’s rising food scene.
“Making bread, especially pita is very tricky stuff. A five-degree difference in temperature or humidity can change everything, and then you can’t use it. It just doesn’t hold up. We use the highest quality flour, the kind used in the best pizza dough which is 40% more expensive than regular flour, and everything is handmade to order,” he said. “The falafel has been a learning curve, just as the kashrut has, but we are putting out a very good product now and it’s getting better every day.”
The pita is hand-filled by the chef himself, something locals really get a kick out of, and his wife Maureen labors in the kitchen, perfecting the 25-hour pita making process with the final step, the firing, which takes place only once the order is relayed back to the hearth.
“This is a full, all-in endeavor until we get it right,” Weissman said.
The pita is obviously not gluten-free so the falafel plate is served sans pita.
Weissman is said to have mentored local chef celebrities over the years.
“I don’t know how many great chefs I produced if any,” he said. “I know a lot learned from me and then went on their own, and some probably just couldn’t stand me and then went on their own.”
Weissman commented about Le Rêve’s sixth place rating in Gourmet Magazine.
“That stuff doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “My job is putting butts in seats and giving people a happy experience.”
Moshe’s also serves craft beers, hand-crafted teas and a fully kosher wine selection with vintage wines from California, Israel and France ranging in prices from $18 – $156.
This story was originally published on Tuesday, July 28, 2015.
*Featured/top image: Chef Andrew Weissman stands behind the counter at Moshe’s Golden Falafel.