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When a friend told us that there was surprisingly good falafel being served at Crown Fried Chicken in downtown Trenton, I was surprised. This greasy fry-shop is next to one of Trenton’s busiest bus stops (on the corner of State and Broad), and I have to confess I had never been inside. From its drab exterior and neon signage, it didn’t promise much in the way of culinary heights. But I’m always game for a good falafel, so I ventured inside.
Crown Fried Chicken is the dive that you expect it to be–or maybe even more so. There are two greasy tables in the corner, but most of the traffic here is take-out. The interior is dominated by a massive menu that wraps around the entire counter–and doesn’t mention falafel at all. (Eventually we did see a small sign in a far corner of the room that mentioned the falafel, but only after we’d eaten.) If you know to ask for it, they’ll happily dish up some falafel for you–and it’s pretty darn good.
CFC serves their falafel in a most unusual way. If you order a “falafel sandwich” you will get something akin to a “falafel burger.” At $3.99, it’s a lightly toasted hamburger bun with a few falafel balls inside (sometimes smashed down a bit and sometimes left intact), along with lettuce, tomato, onion and tahini sauce. This is true hybrid food, the sort of thing you’d see if a Middle Eastern place ran out of traditional lafa (the flatbread in which falafel is typically served) and instead substituted hamburger buns. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but it’s really really good. The moistness of the bun is a great support to the falafels’ intentionally dry interior, making the whole affair a really perfect bite. If you want something more traditional, you have to order a “falafel wrap” ($5.99) which is served in a flatbread. We found it good, and much more authentic, but we were surprised to find we preferred the “sandwich style.” There’s something about the slightly sweet, melt-in-your mouth hamburger bun that makes a terrific contrast to the flavorful fried chickpea balls. The falafels themselves are delicious, crispy with a fluffy interior, and served warm out of the fryer.
We haven’t tried the rest of the menu–but trusted friends and regulars tell us it’s decent but not exceptional. Crown Fried Chicken offers breakfast (egg and cheese sandwiches) and tons of fried foods, mostly chicken in various forms. They also offer gyros (which we haven’t tried), collard greens, “spinach rolls” and corn on the cob which we hear is terrific. We’ve been advised to avoid the fried fish.
According to the sign we found in the corner, CFC’s falafel is vegan and gluten-free, though we can’t vouch for the oil that it’s fried in. We prefer a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy when it comes to such things at restaurants, but if you’re a strict vegan or have serious celiac, you’ll probably want to steer clear. They are open late (unusually so for downtown Trenton) and also on weekends, which makes them a rare breed in this part of town.
During our last visit, a very heated argument started between two patrons who turned out to be a landlord and tenant. Then the power went out (as it regularly seems to do). We decided to flee before things took a turn for the worse.
If you visit, be prepared for an adventure–but also a pretty good falafel.
(Thanks to Wills for the recommendation.)