That’s how long chef Scott Zwiezen, co-owner of Echo Park’s Elf Cafe, has been wanting to open a falafel joint. When he heard about a vacant storefront in Atwater Village, he and his Elf partners decided it would be the perfect spot to land Dune, a casual Middle Eastern counter restaurant, which soft-opened less than two weeks ago. Judging by the immediate response (they’ve already had a few sell-out days), they made the right move.
“It’s one of the several things lacking in our neighborhoods–there’s no falafel on the Eastside. You have to go to Glendale or Hollywood, yet it’s such the perfect vegetarian hamburger or street food,” Zwiezen says.
Dune’s spartan menu centers around Zwiezen’s falafel, made with raw, organic chickpeas that he’s grinding by hand while he awaits the arrival of a food processor. The recipe for the deep-fried balls, made without the assistance of any flour, has been developed for years–those who visited El Falafel, a pop-up Elf hosted back in 2012, tasted an early version. The sandwich that showcases the falafel has Levantine roots and is layered with smooth, creamy hummus, pickled cabbage, chopped potatoes, and fresh herbs. The flavors are as bold as the chef’s fans would expect. And keeping with the fresh-organic ethos of Elf, everything at this new concept is made in-house, including the pita, which is grilled (with a slight char) to order.
One thing customers might be surprised by is the inclusion of meat at Dune, a definite departure from Elf’s vegetarian menu. Zwiezen says he decided to serve a lamb sandwich because he wanted to offer something for everyone while using meat that’s sustainably raised with easily traced origins. Meat lovers–and even meat dabblers–will likely be impressed by the succulence of the unexpected meatballs, which are prepared with traditional Middle Eastern seasonings and seared in a cast-iron skillet. Zwiezen says that an Istanbul-style fish sandwich is also in the works.
Beets, eggs, and feta cheese on a Röckenwagner ciabatta roll, along with plates of hummus, tabouleh, and falafel are also on the menu, plus there’s freshly made iced tea and rosemary lemonade. We suggest ending the meal on a sweet note with a simple, delicious dish of rosewater dates, lightly coated in olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Currently, Dune is standing-room only with counters, stocked with bowls of pickles and Crystal hot sauce, designed for quick eating.