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We Try the Falafel Pie From Benjy's Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Queens
The five boroughs are dotted with numerous cuisine-unspecific kosher restaurants, serving everything from shawarma to pizza to sushi, all rabbinically approved for Orthodox Jewish consumption. Benjy's Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Flushing is one notable example. According to the restaurant's extended name, a woman I spoke to while having lunch there, and this blog post (picked up by Gothamist), the pizza is the thing to order at Benjy's. And having read that post, there was no way I'd be ordering anything other than the Falafel Pizza ($22/pie, $3.25/slice).
When I walked into Benjy's with some friends on a Sunday afternoon, it was filled uniformly with Orthodox Jews, all enjoying a lazy post-Shabbat lunch with their families. In fact, for the two hours we were there, the only gentiles in the restaurant were some of the kitchen staff and my friend Tyler. The menu features a whopping 139 items, with disparate options like pizza, pasta, sandwiches, breakfast, juice, and salad, plus a whitefish- and imitation shellfish-laden sushi menu, with creatively-named rolls like the "Rock 'n' Roll." Needless to say, Benjy's is not the sort of establishment usually highlighted on Slice.
When Joe DiStefano reviewed this pizza, he referred to it as "the best and only novelty slice I have eaten to date." While falafel on pizza is certainly a novelty for most people, I would challenge the idea that this is a novelty slice like something you'd find at, say, Two Boots or Pizza Hut Canada. Falafel was developed as a meat substitute in the Middle East, and since Jewish dietary laws forbid the mixing of meat and dairy (hence the "dairy" in the restaurant's name), falafel is a perfectly logical topping for a kosher pizzeria, in lieu of meatballs or sausage.
When our pizza emerged, it was immediately clear that the mozzarella was of the shredded variety; rather than melting fully, it kept its shape in a patchwork of sauce and cheese somewhat unevenly distributed across the surface of the pie. But it still imparted that signature milky flavor, spread over a surprisingly thin if dense crust. The ends were crisp, in a bland breadstick sort of way, while a quick look at the undercarriage also revealed the telltale hatch marks of a pizza screen, albeit with a nicely burnished finish. In short, it's a perfectly fine kosher pizza.
Thankfully, plopping some falafel atop the pie makes for a decided improvement, and judging by how concentrically it was laid out, these are still pizzas made with care. Each slice ends up having about six balls on it, which makes the whole thing quite filling (four 20-something men were ultimately each satisfied with two slices.) The falafel itself is pleasantly crisp and not a bit greasy. But while I was pleasantly surprised by the dimension it added the pizza, the whole thing still felt a bit lacking.
While DiStefano recommends dosing the pie with some hot sauce and tahini, we found our eyes drifting to our unfinished Babaganoush Platter ($6.50)—incidentally, quite good and staggeringly large—and decided to experiment. The result: a delicious Middle Eastern-Italian fusion mess which any rabbi should approve of. If you're so inclined, hummus platters are also available.
If you like falafel, but feel like eating it on something a little more unusual, pizza is definitely worth a try (especially if you're under the influence). And while Benjy's pizza itself may be mediocre, the falafel makes it every bit as weirdly enjoyable as you'd expect. Ultimately, one friend summed it up best: "It tastes just like pizza, but with a hint of falafel!" If you go in with that expectation, we're betting you'll leave Benjy's Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar fully satisfied.
About the author: Ben Jay is a Serious Eats contributor, photographer, carnivore, beer and whisky drinker, and music nerd. Until someone (Kenji) makes Falafel on a Waffle a reality, this review will have to do. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.