San Antonio’s about to get its first full-fledged falafel spot.
But Moshe’s Golden Falafel, which opens mid-June, ain’t any old Middle Eastern joint. It’s the brainchild of James Beard-nominated chef , a San Antonio native who’s a hometown celebrity for hotspots like The Luxury, Il Sogno Osteria, and Sandbar Fish House & Market.
The new restaurant’s tagline: “The Chosen Falafel.” The spot will become the city’s only kosher restaurant with a beer and wine license.
“Why falafel?” we asked the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, who has a background in classical French cooking.
“I’m a Jew. Falafel and this style of food was part of my upbringing. It’s what I know and love,” Weissman said. Weissman’s Chicago grandparents kept kosher; his food memories resonate with the hummus, baba ghanoush, roasted red peppers and kibbeh they’d serve. Later, on visits to Israel, he absorbed “and loved” the food culture.
“I also like out-of-hand street food,” Weissman said. “I saw a hole in the market, and thought I would seize it. But I didn’t know the level of excitement there was for falafel until people started hearing about Moshe’s. It’s been kind of cool.”
What’s also cool is how Weissman will spin a Middle Eastern staple. “San Antonio is big on taquerias and salsa bars,” he said. “There are so many amazing sauces that can go on falafel sandwiches. So I thought I would marry falafel with what people here in San Antonio know, by having, say, ten different salsas at a salsa bar.”
Moshe’s falafel will be made to order, along with “everything else,” Weissman said. The chef’s concocting a dozen salads that will rotate on Moshe’s menu, from Israeli salad to hummus and baba ghanoush.
Even pita will come fresh from an onsite kosher bakery, where Weissman plans to hawk kosher challah and other daily breads. “Maybe that’s not so unique in other parts of the world, but it is around here,” he said. “People are so used to that crappy cardboard pita you get in supermarkets.”
Born in San Antonio, Weissman studied at the CIA in New York before bolting for France, where he cooked under notables like Bernard Andrieux and Jacques Thiebault. Back in the States, he helmed the stove at New York’s Le Cirque in 2000 before returning to San Antonio a year later.
He shook up local dining with Le Reve, a formal French eatery in a town defined by its near-contempt for formality. “I imposed reservations and jackets,” he told FirstWeFeast. “And in San Antonio, nobody wears jackets.” After Le Reve closed in 2009, he found his footing with an eclectic string of successes with wife and business partner Maureen Weissman.
Now, he’s just as sanguine about the prospects of Israeli food in a place where it’s largely been invisible. “I think people connect with an element of health or perceived health in this food. Falafel looks healthy, when it’s actually a fried fritter,” he said. “It’s also of the moment, meaning a la minute, as we say in the kitchen. It has vibrancy, and its color palette looks healthy. Anyway, what I’ve noticed over the 25 years I’ve been cooking is that there’s a domino effect. One guy does it, and it spreads like a forest fire.”
Weissman’s not the first member of his family to share Semitic staples with San Antonians. An uncle opened a “full-blown deli” called Lox, Stock, and Bagel more than 35 years ago — far too soon for today’s nouveau-deli revival, it turns out. “It didn’t last long,” Weissman said. “But it was pretty amazing. I’d like to bring it back, and maybe use the same name. Deli food is something I’ve wanted to do for years.”
Weissman’s mother, Stevie Weissman, is a macher in San Antonio’s Jewish food scene in her own right — she’s one of the city’s busiest party planners. “All the Jews call on her for their weddings and bar mitzvahs,” he said laughing.
And Moshe, the new restaurant’s namesake? He’s one of Weissman’s three kids. “Moshe’s three years old,” Weissman said. “And he’s crazy about the restaurant.”
We have a feeling he won’t be the only one.
Michael Kaminer is a contributing editor at the Forward.