When Kevin and Darren Malhame dreamed up Brassica years ago, they weren't thinking of modeling their Middle Eastern-Mediterranean-inspired eatery after Chipotle. Their modest goal was to make a standout falafel shop.
When Kevin and Darren Malhamedreamed up Brassica years ago, the build-your-own dish movement had not yet reached critical mass. The brothers, who also operate the Northstar Cafe chain, weren't thinking of modeling their Middle Eastern-Mediterranean-inspired eatery after Chipotle. They had modest goals: make fragrant falafel, soft whole wheat pita and crisp french fries. In short: a standout falafel shop.
They could have stopped there and come out with a winner at their Short North restaurant-all three elements served at Brassica make the fast-casual spot worth a visit. But thankfully they didn't. The Malhame's test kitchen allowed the idea to evolve into a focus on vegetables, locally sourced and smartly prepared to enhance their natural flavors, like bright, raw greens, acidic pickled beets and heady roasted carrots. Everything else (tender harissa-rubbed brisket, for instance) serves a strong supporting role, whether its in a pita, a salad with lentils and rice or on a hummus plate.
The trick at Brassica is restraint. Keep it simple to let flavors shine and to avoid an overly salty experience. Start with soft-shelled falafel ($7.50) heavily scented with cumin. Add tahini-rich hummus, and then pile on a pickled vegetable like red cabbage, garlicky house sauce and a roasted veg, like char-kissed cauliflower with jalapenos.
While the salads are hearty, make your first order a sandwich, if only to try the house-made, whole wheat pita, some of the best in the city. Baked in a fiery oven behind the counter, it's sturdy enough to hold the weight of whatever you pack into it (like aleppo-pepper-glazed lamb bacon) and thickly layered to absorb excess moisture, so the bottom won't fall out. It's this kind of attention to detail that revives faith in the cafeteria-style concept-that it can work if owners take the time to ask: Do all elements work well both together and on their own?
Kudos to the Malhames for the sleek upgrade of the former Betty's boxcar-sized space, made airy with light green subway tiles with black grout, porthole windows and mirrors. Don't mistake the neon pink artwork for floral sketches; they are abstract drawings of brassicas, the genus of plant that includescabbage and kale, for which the restaurant is named.brassicashortnorth.com