Last year, self-serve fro yo shops. This year, falafel joints? As easy-grab food goes, Mediterranean fare seems to be making inroads as the new healthy alternative to burgers for fast-casual diners looking for a low-cost meal that leans toward a better-for-you profile.
With its wide-ranging culinary landscape, Morris County is always a good place to follow food trends. Carmel Haifa has been quietly serving up delicious, authentic fare in a nondescript storefront across from the Morris Plains train station for a couple of years. Crisp, profiled here when it debuted earlier this summer, offers a quality vegetarian option on Route 10 in Denville. The Pita Grill is also expanding upon its multiple NYC locations and is now under construction in Morristown.
Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, a Denver-based chain, recently opened its doors in Florham Park and is a welcome addition to the Columbia Turnpike shopping center that houses Trader’s Joe’s, Nonna’s Italian Restaurant, Qdoba, and Red Mango. As the flagship NJ shop, this is the first of a series of Northeast franchise locations the company has in the works.
Garbanzo’s stated mission is to provide the “freshest, healthiest, most authentic Mediterranean food around.” They make their pita from scratch; prep copious amounts of veggies, herbs, and aromatics to create salads, sauces, and dips; and import authentic ingredients for use in their “original, unique recipes.” The result is a pretty impressive selection of flavorful, interesting fare that is well priced for a quick lunch or easy dinner.
The setup is simple: you step up to the clean, nicely laid out counter and build your entrée step by step, choosing first whether you’d like a pita (white or wheat), plate, or “laffa” (essentially a wrap). Next you pick your protein from a selection of well-seasoned meats (chicken or steak), portabello mushrooms, falafel, or hummus. Then you shift over to the toppings and sides area to pick and choose from a range of delicacies including feta cheese, kalamata olives, tzatziki, dolmas, tabuleh, and a slew of garlic-, lemon-, and chili-infused house-made sauces.
Kabob platters, served with rice, Greek salads with the same protein topping options, and daily soups are also on offer. Meals can be rounded out with fresh-made potato chips (super crispy!) and a selection of “signature” drinks including flavored lemonade and iced tea fusions like mint, hibiscus mango, pomegranate cranberry, and lemongrass. The kids menu includes a fun grilled cheese on pita option, served with a choice of chips, rice, or an apple. Baklava and cookies are also available, though are not made on the premises.
Garbanzo has a playful take on things, with clever signage posted around the bright, inviting space. Prices are in the $6 – 10 range, offering a great alternative to standard fast food for an affordable meal. This isn’t quite the same experience as sitting down to an expansive spread in a full-scale Greek restaurant (I’m looking at you, Stamna Taverna!), but the flavors, textures, and freshness are there. And hopping on this particular trend isn’t a bad way to go if you’re striving for a more healthful approach to your culinary lifestyle.
Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill
176 Columbia Turnpike
11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. daily
Take-out & catering available
Deanna Quinones is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Morris County. A freelance writer, blogger, and unrepentant chocolate addict, Deanna spent 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area where life was good and the burritos even better. She recently returned to the Garden State and now resides in Morristown, where she and her Texas-born/Jersey-raised/California-found husband are raising two wild and wonderful kids. An experienced book marketer, award-winning greeting card writer, and entertainment writing dabbler, Deanna can be reached at email@example.com. (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)