Has Abu's jumped the shark?
The state's oldest Middle Eastern restaurant now serves pizza and fries. WTF?
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For more than 30 years, Abu’s (1978 N. Farwell Ave., 414-277-0485) was more or less exactly the same, and regulars liked it that way. You’d go in, get your falafel sandwich, check out the map of Jerusalem, maybe squeeze into the tiny bathroom, and basically soak up the ambiance that comes from being Wisconsin’s oldest Middle Eastern restaurant. You knew what to expect. Then Firas Jarrar took the reigns from now-retired Michel Aboul-Zelof in July and all hell broke loose. The red awnings were traded in for sunny yellow. The ancient flashing light disappeared. Inside, three decades of awards vanished from freshly painted walls. And—horror of horrors—there was pizza on the menu. And fries. And deep-fried eggplant. I had to wonder: Did they even sell falafel anymore?
According to Jarrar, the changes were made to improve business. He hoped to make Abu’s more appealing to the college students and young professionals in the neighborhood. It seems to have worked—business is up 25 to 30 percent since the introduction of pizza. “More than half our customers are coming in for pizza,” he says. “We’re reaching out to a younger crowd. Before, it had a lot of regulars, older people who had been coming since the ’70s.” Jarrar says a lot of people were intimidated by the cuisine, but now they’re coming in.
What? Screw these wussies who are too afraid to go in and try some delicious food. That’s their own fault. Abuuuuuuuuuuu’s! What have you done?
My fears were premature and maybe a bit dramatic. Turns out that not only does Abu’s still sell falafel, the falafel—now made fresh with each order—is even better than before. And the pizza is not, contrary to my original expectations, a rubbery mass of cheese-smothered desperation. It’s actually good. The thin crust is crispy and the veggies—like kalamata olives, artichokes, and spinach—are fresh, but it’s the olive oil and tahini sauce that makes Abu’s pizza (say it again: Abu’s pizza) delicious and original. Plus, there’s a load of other new items on the menu. I particularly like the fried ones, because I’m a pig. Abu’s now serves French fries, eggplant fries, and zucchini fries as sides, plus dinners and sandwiches with fried cauliflower. Change is sometimes hard to swallow, but heading over to Abu’s and over-indulging made this one okay. For now, anyway.