Finally Falafel on Fire Island

Fira’s Falafel & Frites 311 Bay WalkOcean Beach, NY 11770

In 2010, the

Mediterranean Diet was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO

) as a cuisine of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It’s healthful food that feeds body and soul in a sustainable way. It feeds families, cultures, and traditions. But I was thinking of none of this when I learned Fira’s Falafel & Frites was opening downtown. I was just thrilled that a falafel place had at last come to Fire Island.The establishment is the brainchild of Ira Zahler and his lovely wife, Caroline. As the longtime DJ at Albatross and special engagements at other local venues, like CJ’s Halloween Party in recent years, Ira is a known commodity in Ocean Beach. He also evolved from young disc-spinning stud to a married man and father in Ocean Beach, and has been a professional caterer in New York City for 30 years.Like for many of us, the pandemic changed things for the Zahler family. Event catering dried up in the city, and Caroline, who is a public relations specialist in Manhattan, was suddenly working remotely. As did a number of seasonal families on Fire Island, they decided to enroll daughter Rebecca in Fire Island School and try the year-round experience.“My daughter has been a self-proclaimed vegetarian since the age of 3,” Ira said proudly. “And I had time on my hands. Suddenly I was experimenting with falafel recipes, and Caroline was my food taster.”“I sampled a lot of falafel!” Caroline agreed.However the eatery concept was not complete. And much like myself, Ira is a fan of alliteration.“Frites, not fries!” he insisted. “Like pommes frites, like what they enjoy in Belgium.”Are Belgian frites recognized by UNESCO? Well believe it or not, there is actually a

campaign underway

to do just that, so it seems Ira is onto something.

It’s all about options – meatless options. And while most Fire Island dining establishments may have a couple of selections on their menus, Fire Island can still be a challenge for those who choose the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.“Maybe you are not vegetarian every day,” Ira said. “Maybe it’s about all of us going meatless a few days out of each week. Just like it’s about sourcing your vegetables locally as often as you can – something we aim to do here.”So what to order? As a fan of Middle Eastern food, I found myself gravitating to the sampler plate with hummus, baba ghanoush, Israeli salad, quinoa, and assorted pickled vegetables. Served with pita bread and a choice of the many interesting signature sauces Fira’s has to offer, you have a vegetarian feast. As for those saying they can just pick up hummus at the supermarket, this does not compare to the creamy perfection of having it made on premises.Ira added a sampler of falafel and his frites to my order, and I’m glad he did. This is not the street cart falafel of New York City, but thoughtfully crafted in small batches, and the difference is evident in its flavor. It also is understood any fried potato is best when done with simple excellence, just a hint of sea salt, and let them come to life with the dipping sauce – their truffle aioli being my personal favorite.

“Do you have baklava for dessert?” I asked.My wish for Fire Island falafel has long included barrier beach baklava in the package. While their answer was not yes, they did not rule out the possibility of offering it in the future.Then I asked them how they liked wintering on Fire Island.“We plan to stay another year!” Caroline said gleefully with her dark eyed daughter by her side. “I met so many nice people here. One of the mothers I got to know even designed our logo.”It is an attractive logo!Fira’s Falafel & Frites shares the storefront space with Bay Walk Café, so consider pairing your order with a nice smoothie or acai bowl.

Spring Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.- 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight (possible extended late night hours on weekends TBA.)