By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
As I travel around Wyoming looking for great places to eat, I find there are so many that it takes time to tell their stories.
One such place I found was during a recent trip to Cheyenne. OK, it’s not really a “place,” but let me explain. I visited Cheyenne in June to take part in the city’s annual “Superday” celebration.
After a year’s hiatus because of the coronavirus, the event returned in 2021 with old favorite activities and at least one new option for food, the “Noam’s Table: Taste of Tel Aviv” food truck.
I was listening to a local garage band warm up on stage when the smell of something interesting filled the air.
Food vendors and food trucks were located at the back of the park, where I found classic food options including funnel cakes, tacos, burgers and even a Domino’s Pizza booth.
But what really caught my eye was a rather new looking truck with the name “Noam’s Table: Taste of Tel Aviv” painted on its side.
Growing up in Tampa, Florida, I was rather close to Tarpon Springs, which is a Greek orthodox community known for sponge diving and some of the best Greek and Middle Eastern food this side of the Mediterranean Sea. So needless to say, I’ve had some of the best there is.
I made my way straight to the menu on the side of the truck and just as I had hoped, there was one of my all-time favorites! Falafel! And hummus! Even an Israeli salad, which is a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day.
As I stood there studying the menu, the smiling owner of the truck, Noam Mantaka, introduced himself through the window.
Noam told me he was born in Tel Aviv in Israel and that falafel and pita were staples there, eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He also said he just loved to cook and make people happy — something I can personally relate to.
Having lived all over Israel, Noam developed his recipes from the best of the best the country had to offer.
“It took me three years to develop my spices for the falafel, to make it perfect,” he said. “I love to cook. I took all kind of tricks of chefs and combined to one [recipe] for myself.”
Moving to the U.S., Noam wanted to share his food and create smiles here as well. The Noam’s Table food truck opened almost a year ago, and you can find it traveling around Wyoming, spreading those smiles.
After telling me a bit about himself, Noam invited me behind the curtain, or in this case the screen door, to see his pride and joy, his food truck.
If I thought it smelled good outside, the inside was pure heaven! There was a griddle with fresh pitas toasting, and next to that was beef grilling for gyros (more on gyros in a moment). On the opposite side of the pita was the fryer where the magic happens — where the falafel is fried.
What’s a falafel? Simply the most popular fast food in the Middle East. Falafel is a chickpea (garbanzo bean) fritter, but it can also be made with fava beans. The variety Noam serves are chickpea — my personal favorite. Noam serves falafel in round balls, but it can also be made as a patty. The chickpeas are are ground and mixed with fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, cumin, along with spices such as garlic.
I didn’t ask for the recipe, but I could tell the mix looked right. It had to be the right mix, because, as it was explained to me, no binders like flour or starch are used to hold the balls together as they fry. Also, the temperature of the oil has to be perfect, or they fall apart as they fry.
The dark and delicious orbs are placed on a warm pita bread alongside some of the gyro beef, Israeli salad, and a slice of pickle. It’s then topped with Tahini.
Tahini is a sauce used on many dishes that is made with ground sesame seeds, garlic, lemon juice and herbs. This gyro is served with seasoned fries that Noam told me were his secret “Za’atar fries.”
Just think awesome french fries with an Israeli twist.
Now, as promised, a note on “gyros”. There’s great debate on how to pronounce this. Is it “geye-ro” or is it “yee-ro” or are both wrong? I was always taught the latter was the correct way, but listening to Noam, it realized that I had it all wrong. Gyro is seems, is pronounced “gee-ro.” I will always defer to the person who knows.
At this point, Noam proudly held up the gyro like he was a proud poppa with a newborn baby!
Although it was too early for lunch, before leaving the truck, I was told I had to try the hummus.
The little sample cup passed to me was filled with a beautiful blond hummus and as I dipped my finger in to get a taste, the first thing I noticed was how fresh it was. This isn’t the store-bought stuff. It’s really hard to explain how different it is when it’s fresh. You can order the hummus with pita chips for dipping, or buy a pound of the hummus by itself.
When I returned to Noam’s for lunch, Noam was pleased to see I was back to try him out. I ordered a gyro similar to the one I saw being made earlier.
Finding a shady spot on a bench, I unwrapped my lunch to investigate. One bite and I was transported to the shores of the Mediterranean or the Gulf Coast of Florida. This is a flavor I hadn’t had since moving to Wyoming six years ago and it was wonderful!
The falafel was crisp on the outside and tender in the middle. The beef was seasoned to perfection and the salad on the gyro made a cool complement to the combo.
If you have never tried real falafel or gyro, look for Noam’s Table.
The truck is based in Cheyenne area and a schedule of its stops can be found on Noam’s Facebook page or website, www.noamstable.com