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A few years back, the Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan introduced the self-serving toppings bar to the 2 a.m. meal. The premise was simple: after grabbing your reasonably priced falafel sandwich, you then had the option of smothering those fried balls with assorted dips and sauces—-garlic cream, the cucumber-yogurt combo, hummus, etc. You could pile it on and presto: two meals in one.
Amsterdam used to offer its customers a basket and plastic forks. Those items allowed you to load up your pita without worrying about things falling apart. So what if the marinated vegetables spilled over or the yogurt sauce bled through your pita? You still had your basket and plastic fork.
Then Amsterdam got smart. They took away your basket and plastic fork. This made larding up your falafel sandwich difficult, but not impossible—-especially if you didn’t care about making a mess. That’s why God invented napkins. The shop wasn’t going to take away napkins. But they added a rule—-you can only make one trip to the toppings bar.
Amsterdam management posted a small laminated sign on the toppings bar that instructed customers on how best to make that one trip down the bar worth it. One suggestion: “crush your balls.” As a token of their generosity, the proprietors noted that after your one trip “you may return to the pumps of Tahini and Garlic Cream at the end.”
When a chef at Amsterdam split off and started up Old City Cafe of Jerusalem just up the street, he, too, had a toppings bar. This toppings bar was superior to the Amsterdam model. It had roasted cauliflower. And it was all you can eat.
And then on a recent visit, I found Old City now has rules for the toppings bar. Under sandwiches, it provided this little bit of instruction: “Served with 1 unlimited topping bar.” If I was unsure what that meant, I only had to look under the “Platters” section for a clarification: “Platter served with rice, pita bread and your choice of 2 items from the topping bar.”
How do I choose between roasted cauliflower and eggplant? Cucumber-yogurt dip vs. hummus? I don’t. I just cram my pita and hope not to get caught by the falafel cops. After two and three more visits to the restaurant without incident, I think it’s safe to go ahead and pile on the toppings. But I still feeling like a toppings whore.
The proposition is kinda bullshit. Topping bars shouldn’t come with rules! M’Dawg figured that out pretty quick. When the gourmet hot dog eatery opened, there was instant confusion over the toppings bar. The problem was you had to pay extra for the “uptown” toppings—-$1 for your apricot chutney or garlicky mushrooms. People—-myself included—-thought that a buck only got you one topping. But on a second visit, I was informed that everyone had fucked this up. It was actually $1 for all you can top!
Why can’t it be as simple as that? Why can’t a good deal just stay a good deal? I say free the toppings bars from the rules and let us pile it on! Really, how much yogurt sauce do you think we can eat in one sitting?