"I saw potential and opportunity in Jersey City," said Kwara. "I felt it was going to turn around and I was right."
Ibby's Falafel, located at 303 Grove St., has revamped their menu and their look, giving locals an enticing taste of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Diners can enjoy a meal inside or outside in the charming café to enjoy the sights and sounds of downtown.
A family business
Owner Adnan Kwara, who is known to everyone as "Ibby," first opened the doors in 1996. Back then, he felt that Jersey City was an area that was about to take off and was ready for some Turkish delights. Now celebrating his 12th anniversary, it would seem that his hunch was correct.
Kwara, who makes everything on the premises, first studied family recipes at the hip of his uncle. Kwara's uncle runs the original family restaurant in Manhattan, which has been open since the mid '60s.
It was there that Kwara first learned how to prepare customer favorites like the family recipe for the famous falafel, shish kabob, and baba ghnoush (an eggplant dish).
In addition to old favorites - some of which have been tweaked - there are new items that Kwara perfected like his famous chicken shawarma.
The meat is marinated for hours in his special blend of spices, which is melt-in-the-mouth tender. On a recent visit to the eatery, my companion and I had the chance to sample some of Kwara's celebrated dishes. First on our list was Ibby's famous falafel. Even those who aren't familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine will love this blend of ground chickpeas, fresh vegetables, and spices, which is combined together in a ball and cooked.
Also good is the homemade hummus, which is a creamy blend of mashed chickpeas, olive oil, lemon and spices. As a platter, the hummus is served with a salad and chunks of hot pita bread to capture the buttery smooth spread.
Next, we tried the chicken kabobs. The kabobs have thick, juicy chunks of meat that are marinated in Ibby's special blend of spices. The meat has tons of flavor with notes of lemon, paprika, and garlic.
The falafel, kabob, or hummus, can be served as a sandwich or as a platter. Other sandwiches or platters include: falafel and hummus; falafel and ghanoush; hummus and baba ghanoush; falafel and tabouli, falafel and feta cheese; and others.
Can't decide? Try Ibby's all veggie combo, which has a little bit of everything.
For added dash, Ibby's homemade hot sauce will take any of the dishes to a new level of flavor or top it with a creamy yogurt mint topping.
A little of this, a little of that
Ibby's also has great salads. We tried the new fatoush salad, the tabouli and stuffed grape leaves. The fatoush salad has fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and is served with their homemade dressing, which is light blend of olive oil, lemon, vinegar and spices.
The traditional tabouli is a finely chopped salad that is a refreshing blend of greens with a light mint aftertaste. This salad is excellent as a starter or even as a side to the bolder taste of the spicy sandwiches or combination platters.
The grape leaves are stuffed with rice and layered with mint and seasoning. This is another vegetarian delight that is a perfect complement to the spicier sandwiches.
Other salads include a Greek salad (grape leaves, feta cheese, olives) and a feta cheese salad (lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, tahini).
To top off our great meal, we finished with Turkish coffee, baklava, and namoura. Coffee lovers will appreciate the thick, rich Turkish blend that is similar to espresso, but with a bolder flavor and an aromatic scent.
We couldn't decide which pastry we like better- both were decadent. The baklava has thin layers of pastry, walnuts, pistachio and honey, while the similar namoura is perhaps a little richer with heavy cream, honey and pistachios. We indulged in every last bite of the sweet desserts.
All of the desserts are made on the premises.
All of the items are available for eat-in, take-out, or delivery. In addition, there are specialty platters for parties. Cash and credit cards are accepted.
The restaurant is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to midnight. On Friday and Saturday they are open from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m. Ibby's Falafel is located at 303 Grove St. in Jersey City. For more information, call (201) 432-2400.
Comments on this piece can be sent to: DSchwaeble@hudsonreporter.com.