An Oasis of Chickpeas: Vegetarians, Vegans, Meat-Eaters RejoiceAug 31, 2020 08:33AM ● By Daisy Hutzell Rodman
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
In the early 2010s, walking on N. Linn Street toward childhood favorite “the ’Burg” in Iowa City, I became distracted by a scent of garlic-eggplant-olive oil-parsley that had nothing to do with the veggie burger and home fries that I was planning for dinner that night. Instead, it came from the restaurant two doors south, and it smelled so good I returned the next day for lunch.
That restaurant was Oasis Falafel, and a lovely respite it was. The falafel was crunchy and the pita was soft and warm, but the hummus should actually have been called heaven. I ate every last gram of the serving, finishing the garbanzo-bean dip with a spoon after running out of pita.
A couple of years ago, I opened the staff fridge at Omaha Magazine and my heart nearly stopped. Chilling out like it was no big deal was a tub of hummus bearing a label on it that read “Oasis” in a familiar font. It turned out, a young couple named Mike and Kellie Osler enjoyed eating at Oasis as college students at the University of Iowa, and a few years after graduating, they made the decision to return home to the Omaha metro to raise their family. They brought a taste of the Hawkeye state with them, partnering with Oasis Iowa City owners Naftaly Stramer and Ofer Sivan to create Oasis Omaha.
The restaurant originally opened in summer 2018 for the downtown lunch crowd. Saturday, then evening, hours followed as the restaurant became busier. However, it seems one has to know the hours of the restaurant, situated at 16th and Harney streets next to comedy club The Backline, as the restaurant is not prominent from the street.
The team at Oasis Falafel has this year helped hospital workers who have been toiling around the clock to combat COVID-19. They began by donating food weekly to a variety of hospitals and doctors' offices. When policies changed in July, banning outside food and drink at hospitals, they changed tactics. At presstime, the restaurant was looking into ways of creating free meals for people on the front lines.
The restaurant caters to vegetarians and vegans, but also has kebabs and gyros to satisfy meat eaters. Vegetarian and gluten-free items are clearly marked on the menu, a difference from the Iowa City menu for which Kellie advocated. Those who eat gluten-free can take note that they have a dedicated fryer for the falafel that is gluten-free. If they are not busy, they might be able to cook fries in it for a gluten-free option, but always check with them as that fryer is used for falafel all day.
I first ate there in person in December 2019, chomping down an order of falafel as a sandwich, made into a combo with a side of za’atar fries and a drink, a side of Moroccan eggplant, and hummus. The falafel is served as small fried balls, which are easier to eat than a big burger-shaped patty, and comes with tomato-cucumber salad and hummus—stuffed in the pita if you order it as a sandwich, served on the side if you order a plate.
The falafel itself is traditional, with fewer herbs than Omahans may be used to. The chickpea flavor dominates and allows for a diner to enhance it with any of the sauces and condiments offered on the condiment bar: tahini, mango curry sauce, jalapeño relish, pepperoncini, and red cabbage slaw. The za’atar fries are thick-cut and served sprinkled with za’atar, a spice blend made of oregano or thyme, cumin, coriander, and sumac. The za’atar tasted pleasingly of citrus from the sumac and the fries were crisp. The Moroccan eggplant is a side dish of eggplant that has been fried with seasoned onions, tomatoes, and cilantro and served cold.
In mid-June I ate Oasis Falafel again, this time ordering pickup as the restaurant was closed to dining in. I ordered a Quarantine Cuddle Kit containing hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, and house-made pita crisps, and a soup and salad pack containing Greek salad, tomato-cilantro soup, hummus, and a six-pack of pita. Sauces and sides are available.
The Greek salad was outstanding. Other restaurants serve iceberg lettuce, a tomato wedge, a couple of cucumbers, a ring of onion, a hunk of feta cheese, and an olive. Oasis gave us a pile of varied salad greens, several slices of tomato and cucumber, sufficient red onion, what appeared to be an entire 8-oz. package of feta cheese, and a pile of kalamata olives. The dressing tasted of oregano, olive oil, and quality balsamic vinegar, thick enough to coat the salad without being syrupy.
The soup tasted like tomatoes and cilantro. As my husband said, “we could reduce this and put it over pasta.” Because I was at home, I sprinkled in a bit of salt, pepper, oregano, and a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic after a couple of bites.
The shining star, however, is that hummus. I have eaten a lot of hummus since I was introduced to it as a teenager, and I have never eaten anything like this. Sometimes hummus can be grainy or used to ward off vampires. This hummus is smooth as silk, garlicky without being overpowering, and topped with a liberal sprinkle of paprika.
Oasis Omaha is what its name purports, a peaceful area in the midst of busy downtown Omaha and a healthy haven for all food lovers.
Visit oasisomaha.com for more information.
This article was printed in the September 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.