By Andrea Pyros
For those who frequent our area’s bountiful farmers markets, the final days of fall signify not only the end of the outdoor market season but the last time we can get our hands on Aba’s Falafel
until the following spring. Talk about heartbreaking! Though winter is guaranteed to come again, at least now lovers of the popular vegan booth won’t have to suffer falafel withdrawal: Aba’s has opened a restaurant in the village of Rhinebeck, serving falafel six days a week, year-round.
chatted with Roy and Cathy Naor, the husband and wife owners of Aba’s, after their first week’s soft open to talk about their family — and family business.
The pair met in 10th grade in Israel, and were friends for years. After school, they stayed in touch while Roy went into the Air Force and Cathy studied neurobiology and traveled extensively. In their 20s, they became a couple, living in Israel and raising their two children, Kai and Mika. For 22 years, Roy was a pilot in the Air Force. After he retired, he became a commercial pilot for El Al, flying every week between New York and Tel Aviv. It was then that Cathy suggested that they “go live on the other side of the line.”
Being self-described rural people, living in the city wasn’t an appealing option. Instead, they drew a circle around JFK and began researching spots within traveling distance that offered transportation to and from the airport. During his layovers, Roy looked around the tri-state area. When he’d describe what he and Cathy wanted from their new home, two different people told him to visit Rhinebeck. He did, after which he called Cathy to tell her, “You’d like it here, no one is wearing makeup and everyone is wearing jeans.”
In 2005, the Naors moved to the Hudson Valley, happily settling in. Except... "We missed the food from Israel," Cathy says. “We loved living out in the country and coming to the farmers market and one day we said, ‘Why don’t we just sell falafel in the market?'" Plans came together quickly. “When we decided to do this, I was on a carb-free diet, and we took a bunch of recipes and tweaked them to be low carb.”
“We figured out a system to fry them even though there is no binder,” Roy adds. “The falafel don’t absorb a lot of oil, so it’s fluffy.” Not only fluffy, but extremely light and flavorful, which explains Aba’s massive lines at the markets each week.
They had no plans to open a restaurant, but they were looking for a bigger kitchen since they’re currently at three different markets each week, and when they saw the space in Rhinebeck become available, they couldn’t resist. “It’s such a great location, you can’t not do something!” Cathy says.
Although their storefront recently housed a small market and then a jeweler, for many years it was the neighborhood barbershop. “The amount of people who come in and say, ‘I got my hair cut here,’” Cathy says and smiles. To honor that history, the Naors bought a small barbershop sign and placed it in their restaurant.
“Many people tell us that we’ve revived this piece of the street,” Roy says. “It’s so nice on this corner, and that’s why we chose Rhinebeck. It has the feel of a neighborhood.”
There are no plans to expand beyond the lunchtime hours. “I want to eat at Terrapin! I don’t want to be here all day long,” Cathy insists.
Right now the couple like the way that people can come in to Aba’s ("Aba" is father in Hebrew) for falafel, then Samuel’s for coffee or Bread Alone for sweets, so don’t expect their simple menu — hummus, falafel, with pita ($8) or without; a variety of handmade Israeli salads; tahini, pickles and hot sauces, plus Roy’s special lemonade (made with anise) — to expand much, either. “Maybe espresso,” Cathy muses. Sundays, in order to avoid competing with the Rhinebeck market right across the street, they’re serving malawach, fried phyllo dough served with tahini, grated tomato and hot sauce, and sabich, which is fried potato, eggplant salad with tahini and a mango curry sauce in a pita (each $10.) It’s all delicious, freshly made, vegan and incredibly satisfying. Visit now, or in the dead of winter. They’ll be there.
54 E. Market St., Rhinebeck, NY
Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.