Gypsy Grill: Authentic Middle Eastern Food in Jersey City

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There’s something about delicious, authentic food that really just…hits the spot. Whether you’re in the mood for something comforting and familiar, or something new and exciting, Hudson County is filled to the brim with authentic locales. One such place is Gypsy Grill in Jersey City. Located at 187 Newark Avenue, this spot boasts a menu riddled with true to the culture, flavorful Middle Eastern cuisine.

How Gypsy Grill Came to Be

Owner Moudy Razek was, to some extent, a visionary when he opened this fast-casual Middle Eastern eatery more than 14 years ago, before giant chains such as Chipotle and Shake Shack popularized the fast-casual concept which later became a sweeping trend. Moudy’s idea was simple to serve food that is “fast” without compromising quality for speed. 

Prior to opening his current locale, Moudy has {literally} cooked his way around the world, having run restaurants in Cairo, London, and Amsterdam before moving to New York in the ‘80s, where he kept this passion going. 

Since then, he has managed restaurants of all calibers, from high-end venues such as the iconic Rainbow Room in New York City, to a few “mid-ranged” New Jersey establishments that offer quality food but will not break the bank, and electric eateries such as Gypsy Grill right here in JC. 

Now, Moudy’s commitment to quality food is evident. During a conversation with Hoboken Girl, the phrase “good ingredients” kept coming up. “Grilled meat is the essence of Middle Eastern Food,” he explained. In the Ottoman Empire {modern day Turkey}, which is said to have ferried the cooking method throughout the rest of the Middle East, soldiers used to grill chunks of freshly killed animals skewed on swords over open fire. {Hence the word, shish kebab. “Sis” for sword and “kebab” for cooked meat}. 

“So to make a good kebab, first, the meat has to be fresh. We usually grill the cut-up meat straight, without marinade or seasoning,” Moudy shared. “If it tastes good, then there’s no need for complicated seasonings. The meat will shine itself.”

Read More: A Visit to Ali Baba: Authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine in Hoboken

The Food

gypsy grill

The small menu at Gypsy Grill reads very similarly to those of other Middle Eastern restaurants, but even for the most commonly seen items such as kebabs and shawarma, certain things do set them apart from others. The meat indeed tastes very fresh and juicy. The blend of spices is lightly applied but the warm, earthy flavors, with just the right amount of citrus and spice, only elevate the flavorful meat. Nothing fancy, just simple, honest grilled meat, but as a frequent customer said, “they know what they are doing.”

Beyond the Middle Eastern staples, there are a few iconic Egyptian specialties that are rarely found in other similar restaurants. One is Koshari, an extremely popular Egyptian staple consisting of a wholesome blend of rice, short-cut pasta, and lentils, topped with a spicy tomato-based sauce and garnished with chickpeas. Humble as it sounds, it is surprisingly comforting and nourishing. The different textures of various types of carbs provide a hearty balance of softness and bite, which is elevated by the zesty sauce. This is only available during the weekend, when Moudy supervises the cooking himself, which can be involved, “to make sure things are done right.”

For meat lovers, there is also Hawawshi, a popular Egyptian street food. Essentially, it is pita bread stuffed with minced and cut meat, spiced with a hefty blend of herbs and spices, and baked until the pita is brown and crispy. When asked about the origin of hawawshi, Moudy smiled wryly. “You know where sandwiches come from?”— referring to the {in}famous Earl of Sandwich who stuffed meat inside bread to save himself the trouble of leaving the gambling table at mealtimes — “Hawawshi was invented by a butcher in Cairo who ‘sandwiched’ meat in the pocket of a pita bread. His name was al-Hawawsh,” Moudy shared. What a happy coincidence.

Surprisingly, when Hoboken Girl mentioned Gypsy Grill’s stellar falafels, which local eaters swear by, Moudy only chuckled lightly and said, “you know, Middle Eastern food is more than falafels and hummus.” He almost takes a zen approach to reviews and preferences of recipes. “Chefs have their own takes on every dish. They may grill the same cut of meat at different temperatures, or use a different blend of spices. Customers too have their opinions on what a falafel or kebab should taste like,” he explained. “It’s impossible to please everyone. But if the food is good, enough people will recognize it, and the business will do well.”

As for that customer input, Moudy takes their opinions seriously. “You can’t get greedy and cut corners, or simply focus on quantity. They will immediately know if the quality slips down,” he explained. 

For him, hospitality goes beyond making good food or even serving customers consistently well. It means taking care of “everyone,” including staff, who are given useful training, as well as delivery workers, who are treated considerately. With such a mindset, Moudy has remained optimistic throughout the coronavirus crisis. “It’s just solving problems,” which he enjoys.

See More: 8 Delicious Spots for Hummus in Hoboken + Jersey City

Surviving During COVID

{Photo credit: @gypsygrillny}

In mid-June, when Jersey City restaurants just reopened for outdoor dining, Hoboken Girl sat down with Moudy at the only unoccupied table outside his small Egyptian eatery. When asked what he thinks the future of small local restaurants would be like after the pandemic, Moudy answered, unequivocally, “It will be good.”

This is very different from the “the future is gloomy for restaurants” rhetoric that has flooded the media throughout the coronavirus pandemic. However, as a veteran of the food business, Moudy’s words carry great weight.

In fact, it is Moudy’s experience throughout the unprecedented lockdown, both as a restaurant owner and as a consultant to other food businesses, seems to have strengthened his confidence in the restaurant industry. “High-end dining might be subjected to economic ups and downs,” he shared. “But for a fast-casual place {like Gypsy Grill}, people will always come. It is the kind of food they want and can afford every day.”

Moudy’s relaxed attitude to every aspect of the business is striking. Maybe it’s from experience, or maybe it’s confidence, or maybe it’s because of the very nature of Middle Eastern food which he takes great pride in. And it’s good, for sure. 

Have you been to Gypsy Grill? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.