Cheese curds, custard, New Glarus beer, falafel. Which of these is not like the rest?
Operating since the annual city food cart review this fall, the bright lime-green Banzo food cart has dared to be different. Their risk has definitely been worth the delicious reward to the Madison community.
Banzo, a Mediterranean, falafel and hummus food cart, has arrived in the Madison food cart scene. And holy garbanzo beans, has it made an entrance. The cart is operated by a young, outgoing couple: Wisconsin native Aaron Collins and Netalee Sheinman, who was born and raised in Israel. The two met studying abroad in Australia.
They present falafel, Israeli deep-fried garbanzo beans, as it should be – as street food. Collins described the food as, “Mediterranean, pita, street food, falafel, hummus, chicken, beef.” He laughed. “It’s kind of hard to really describe all at once.”
There is one easy way to describe the food at Banzo: amazing. Made evident by the masses crowded around the cart at lunch and the murmurs about the new green food cart around campus, Banzo has gained quick popularity.
A few years ago, Collins and Sheinman lived in New York. Every time they visited Madison, however, they would miss the great falafel stands in New York.
“We always kind of laughed, and said, wouldn’t it be funny if we brought one here? After a while we decided to finally try it, and here we are,” said Collins.
The Banzo, their signature freshly made falafel, is offered as a sandwich for $6 or as a platter for $7 and comes with hummus, pita, salad and couscous. It’s topped with tahini, yogurt-dill sauce and hot sauce.
“Falafel and hummus; everybody really has their own, different take on it in the Middle East,” explained Collins. “We just try to do everything, fresh – traditional flavors with a modern street food flair to it.”
But their take on falafel is not all Banzo has to offer. Other entrees include The Chick (grilled chicken), The Slider (mini burgers made with fresh beef from Jenifer Street Market), The Harvest (falafel, eggplant, potatoes and chopped cucumber-tomato salad) and The F Bomb (falafel with either grilled chicken or mini beef burgers). All entrees are offered with the option of as a pita sandwich ($7) or a platter ($8). Free toppings include hummus, chopped salad, hand-cut chips and pickles. Additionally, hand-cut fries and hummus are offered as sides.
Banzo also offers homemade soups like carrot ginger, organic butternut squash and vegan lentil soups. Collins and Sheinman cheerfully hand these in “shots” to customers while waiting or they can be ordered with pita bread for $5.00
“Our most popular sandwich lately has been The Harvest, which is all vegetarian and vegan. … It’s falafel with eggplant and fresh spinach, and that has been by far our most popular sandwich since we’ve moved to Library Mall, aside from the classic falafel,” said Collins.
Collins explained that the two try to use local ingredients and support local businesses. “The more local something is, the better chance it has of being fresh, compared to something that has traveled who knows how long.”
Most of the food Collins and Sheinman use is from Wisconsin or somewhere in the Midwest. Their beef is from the Jenifer Street Market here in Madison. One item that they import is their pita bread, which comes straight from Israel.
As for the future, Banzo expects to start delivery soon. They are adding new sandwiches, hummus plates and sides like couscous, tabouli and baba ghanoush (eggplant salad). They hope to turn their kitchen space on Sherman Avenue into a take-out restaurant, and then later into a caf?.
Collins explained he was nervous to bring a heavily vegetarian falafel cart to Madison. “I was worried not having any cheese on the cart. I was thinking oh God, this is going to be a disaster, no one is going to want anything that doesn’t have cheese on it or if they don’t know what it is.”
It seems that Banzo’s cheeseless cusine is speaking for itself.
“People have really responded well, even if they don’t know what it is. … I’m really happy about that,” said Collins. “Anyone who hasn’t tried [falafel] should give it a try.”
So grab a friend and some cash, and head to Banzo for a savory lunch that will rock your taste buds and maybe even introduce you to your new favorite ethnic food.
Banzo is equipped with a Facebook page and Twitter updates about their location and specials. Collins said their website, www.banzomadison.com, will be launching soon.