Schnitzel, crispy fried cutlets, hail from Austria, so their presence on a Middle Eastern menu can be surprising, until you take immigration into account.
When Austrian Jews emigrated to Israel, they took schnitzel with them. The classic wiener schnitzel, or Viennese schnitzel, was made from pork, which is forbidden under Jewish dietary law, and Islamic rules too. In Israel, schnitzel is usually made from veal, turkey or chicken.
“I grew up on chicken schnitzel,” said Falafel Bar owner Oded Rauvenpoor, who is from Israel. “Every Monday at my mother’s house, from when I was a baby until I went away to the military: schnitzel and French fries.”
At Falafel Bar, Rauvenpoor’s schnitzel is one of the most popular dishes he sells. It arrives bronzed and remarkably crispy, but not dried out, speckled with sesame seeds. The sesame adds a nutty crunch.
To make the dish, chicken tenders are pounded flat and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then they are dipped into flour and egg, to start the coating.
The gooey chicken is dropped into a mixture of seasoned bread crumbs and sesame seeds, and pressed so the coating adheres. Some places might use an oven to bake the chicken, but that tends to dry it out, he said. At Falafel Bar it’s fried until golden. The schnitzels are also breaded to order, which helps with the crispness.
The schnitzel comes as a sandwich ($7.50), rolled in pita bread with salad and mustard mayonnaise, and as a plate ($15), with about nine ounces of schnitzel, a choice of rice or potatoes and chopped salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.
It’s a classic combination for a reason, Rauvenpoor said. “You need the salad for the acidity, the lemon,” he said. “You put it with the fried chicken, it brings all the flavor out.”
Info: 3047 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (831-3982, thefalafelbar.com)