The Center City falafelry with the endless toppings bar has reclaimed its kosher certification after a two-year hiatus.
Maoz Vegetarian is going back to the basics.
The newly kosher-certified fast casual falafel specialist has provided another option for people looking for kosher dining in Center City.
Maoz, located at 1115 Walnut St., was originally certified kosher from its opening in 2005 until 2013. Kobi Karasenti, owner of the sole Philadelphia outpost of the Dutch chain — the original Philadelphia spot, located on South Street closed last year — said the food has more or less maintained its kosher style, but hasn’t officially been certified for the last two years because he stopped working with a rabbi to keep it kosher.
Karasenti moved to Philadelphia from Israel in 2004 to be closer to his brothers. He has worked in the food industry before, mostly on the distribution side, and opened Maoz Vegetarian shortly after moving here.
He said most of the products come from Israel, which adds to the freshness and authenticity of the food, like the ingredients in the falafel and vegan shawarma. Now, Karasenti is making slight changes to become officially kosher-certified while also upholding the same flavors his customers love.
In fact, the restaurant’s offerings are very close to vegan, but he said he can’t bear to rid the restaurant of one of his customers’ favorite non-vegan sauces: the garlic mayonnaise. Aside from some yogurt-based sauces (that have now been altered to be kosher), the all-you-can-stuff-in-your-pita salad bar is completely vegan, including baby eggplant, Israeli salad, fries, carrots, hummus and quinoa salad, to name just a few of the options available.
Maoz prepares all its food in-house, grinding up the spices and starting from scratch. Karasenti said he also bakes the pita bread onsite.
Karasenti will continue to work with Rabbi Eli Hirsch, of the International Kosher Council, to maintain Maoz Vegetarian’s kosher status.
“In terms of what we serve, it’s good for everybody,” he said. All the food has been certified as kosher, but Karasenti said some people still do not eat at his restaurant because it remains open on Shabbat, meaning that they can never eat there even during the week. Although he said staying open on Shabbat doesn’t hinder his business, he can’t afford to close it, either.
Karasenti said he focuses on creating healthy options, too. He makes freshly squeezed juices from fruits, vegetables and spices such as one with strawberries, apples, carrots, beets, ginger and parsley, resulting in a subtly tangy and sweet refreshment on a hot day.
Customer satisfaction is also an important element for Karasenti.
Laura Romero, 25, and Michelle Hence, 24, have been coming to Maoz for the past eight years. They used to eat there more in high school — it is a prime after-school hangout spot for high school students— but they still try to make it there a few times a year even though Romero has since moved to New York.
Neither of the two is vegetarian, but Hence said she prefers vegetables to meat, and she loves the endless toppings options.
They said they both usually get the junior meal deal: a pita stuffed with falafel, hummus, fries and the infamous (and what Romero called addictive) garlic mayonnaise.
Between the fresh vegetables mixed into the crunchy falafel and the refined spices in the vegan shawarma that mesh harmoniously with the unlimited toppings, eating at Maoz Vegetarian can taste more than a little like a slice of Israel.
“We just want to introduce this food for the Jewish community in Philadelphia,” Karasenti said. “That’s very important for me.”
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