Sometimes it takes out-of-town visitors to make you appreciate something that's
in your own backyard. Such is the case with the cafe called Pick Pockets. A
favorite of URI students, this Middle Eastern eatery makes such good falafel
that friends from South Carolina and Alabama don't feel they've truly arrived
at the Newport Folk Festival until they've chowed down on falafel sandwiches --
from one of two Pick Pockets booths -- at 10:30 in the morning.
Friends from Princeton stop by when they're in the area to bring Pick Pockets
grilled chicken and side salads to summer picnics. And yet we, who live five
minutes away, often overlook Pick Pockets in choosing a lunch-time spot or an
evening get-away. Why is that?
I, for one, could never get too many falafel, and this place has several other
offerings for vegetarians. The falafel is made with ground, cooked chickpeas,
then mixed with herbs and spices and deep-fried to a crispness that adds a
great texture element to the wraps they inhabit. Long gone are the days when it
was hard to find someone in a supermarket who understood what I meant in asking
for "pocket bread" or "pita." The pitas are now sliced across and used to roll
sandwiches in, instead of just stuffing their natural pockets.
At Pick Pockets, it's fascinating to see how they've refined the bread factor
to a large pita circle (half of the original pocket), then a half circle in the
middle of that -- more substance for the sauces, one can assume. Then the
wrap-building process begins. Lettuce and tomatoes, plenty of sesame tahini
sauce, possibly olives, pepperoncini, cucumbers, red onions, and for certain
sandwiches, roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella. The whole is rolled with
one sheet of foil, and then sliced across the middle before being rolled again.
The process is almost as much fun to watch as a sushi chef.
Roasted red peppers and mozzarella embellish the eponymous sandwich, "the Pick
Pocket" ($5.50), a refreshing combo with lightly breaded and fried eggplant
slices, torn Romaine strips, and a thick drizzle of balsamic dressing. The
peppers and mozzarella also contribute to a delightful chicken mozzarella
($5.50); add the eggplant to this for a chicken Pick Pocket ($6.25). The
falafel sandwich is $4.40, "the Works," with hummus and tabouleh, is
Pick Pockets also makes a "veggie," with just hummus and tabouleh
($4.80), a "crazy veggie" and a "grilled veggie" (each $5.50). A friend and I
recently tried these last two and found them delicious. The "crazy" was like a
salad in a sandwich, accented with alfalfa sprouts, plenty of crumbled feta,
and hummus. The grilled version is cold, with previously grilled squash,
mushrooms, eggplant, red peppers, and onions, sprinkled with feta and dressed
We had these sandwiches with cups of Pick Pockets' yummy homemade soups ($2.50
half-pint, $3 pint, $5.50 quart). Our choices that day were veggie chili,
lentil, chicken and rice, clam chowder, roasted garlic/potato, and creamy
tomato basil. I love the tomato basil, thick with tomato chunks, flavorful with
garlic and basil, and smooth with real cream. The roasted garlic/potato is also
creamy, but it has no dairy products in it, just the pureed potatoes.
Being long-time South County-ites, we took our soup and sandwiches to a windy
picnic table at Narragansett Beach (hey, anything over 50 degrees is picnic
weather for us hardy types!). But the clean, well-lighted feel of Pick Pockets
is a warm haven on below-50-degree days, with a half-dozen tables in the deli
room and another half-dozen in an adjoining room that offers more privacy and
some intriguing jazz posters. Both rooms have rush-bottomed chairs and light
The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxing, just right for one of those
don't-feel-like-cooking nights. Pick Pockets has chicken and lamb shish kebabs,
both meats marinated and then grilled, and they can be ordered as wraps or as
"main dishes" with side dishes. The falafel and the eggplant moonlight as main
dishes. One main dish with two sides is $7.65; three sides are $6.65, and these
include hummus, tabouleh, fatoosh (a tomato and cucumber salad),
grilled veggies, orzo, potato, or tortellini salads.
Other sandwiches include gyros, grilled beef or chicken strips with
Greek yogurt/cucumber dressing; tarragon or curried chicken salad; tuna,
turkey, ham-and-cheese, and the Italiano: ham, salami, provolone and fixings.
The four Lebanese-American brothers who own and operate Pick Pockets -- the
Mahmouds, with Khaldoun at the helm -- have done well for themselves during
nine years in this spot between a Dunkin' Donuts and a liquor store. They got
their falafel recipe from the late Pierre Borday, a Lebanese actor who starred
as the prophet Kahlil Gibran in a Lebanese film and who set up the original Hot
Pockets on Thayer Street.
The Mahmouds (who no longer own the Pick Pockets in East Greenwich) have
followed a few simple rules to make their restaurant successful: keep the food
fresh and consistently good, the staff helpful and friendly, and the prices
reasonable. And this will have customers, even those from the falafel-less Deep
South, running back for more.
Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002