Eva Larocque is the Falafel Queen. It’s a lighthearted title she merits six days a week when she ties on her apron and opens the doors of her restaurant to serve a personal, inspired take on Lebanese dishes to familiar faces and newcomers alike.
For nearly six years, Larocque has run the 15-seat restaurant with the comforts and feelings of home. Among modest decorations that adorn the restaurant’s walls is a brightly colored mural of Lebanon, where Larocque lived until she was 17, painted by a favorite customer.
Prior to opening Falafel Queen, she developed a steadfast following selling falafel — deep-fried balls made with ground garbanzo beans, fava beans, cilantro, parsley, onions, garlic and spices — as well as hummus and spinach pies for five years on Saturdays in the Old City Farmers Market at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Now, every moment Falafel Queen is open, she can be found behind the counter of its open kitchen, conversing with customers as she cooks up gyros, shawarma, kabobs, falafel and vegetarian entrees.
The menu focuses on health, flavor and tradition, and in 2013, the restaurant’s falafel recipe won Falafel Queen the Best of St. Augustine in the best ethnic dining category.
One staple of the menu is hummus, of which Larocque creates several kinds in addition to the chickpea-based classic, including beet, sweet potato, black bean, spinach and artichoke. For dessert, Falafel Queen carries pistachio and walnut baklava year round, and baklava platters for the holidays. The full menu is available for takeout, and custom catering is available for parties of up to 40 people.
Q&A with Owner Eva Larocque
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
It’s like home. People feel really comfortable when they come here. We’re not fancy or anything. It’s just comfortable. I try to make it this way because I don’t want people to come here and feel like, ‘Oh, my God,’ we’re overdressed or underdressed. You know, just come as you are.
What is your food philosophy?
I take pride in making my food. I try so hard, so that people can like it and hopefully will be back. I love to cook. You know, I try to make it good. I use my taste more than anybody else’s. Even if you work for me, I’ll tell you ‘taste this,’ but I still taste it myself and then see what it needs — more salt, more pepper, more lemon, more this or more that.
What type of cuisine do you specialize in?
It’s Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s Lebanese. You got the falafel, the shawarma, the hummus, the tabouli.
What is your signature dish?
Ninety-five percent is falafel [salad and sandwiches] and then chicken shawarma. [In the Falafel Salad] You got lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, mint, green onions, pickles, jalapenos and the falafel itself, and then the tahini sauce on top of it.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
The falafel salad or the falafel sandwich. I usually ask them, when they tell me this is the fist time they’ve come here, I say, “well, have you ever had falafel,” and they say no or yes, and I say ‘well you have to have the falafel first thing.” And they do, and then the gyros. I have really good gyros.