In March, just one day before Gov. Kate Brown announced her executive order shutting down restaurant dining rooms, Toro Bravo owners Renee and John Gorham decided to close all of their restaurants, to re-evaluate and plan some next steps. Slowly but surely over a few weeks, the restaurant group started to reopen locations for delivery and takeout: Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y’all East, Bless Your Heart Burger, the siblings Tasty (n’ Alder and n’ Daughters), even its namesake tapas restaurant.
Now, the restaurant group is getting into new territory, opening a vegan and gluten-free restaurant specializing in customizable falafel bowls for takeout and delivery. Mama Sesame, now open in the former Woodsman Market space, is the latest from chef Kasey Mills, who is also the mind behind Mediterranean Exploration Company and Shalom Y’all. As opposed to those restaurants, however, Mama Sesame seems designed to be fast-casual: Beyond the falafel bowls, the restaurant’s menu includes snacks like za’atar fries and eggplant chips, plus CBD-infused slushies.
The foundation of the restaurant, however, is in the falafel bowls. Customers choose a base of falafel, then a choice of grain or salad, finishing with a choice of two sauces. The three falafels come in a set of “shades”: The green falafel is blended with herbs, the red with harissa, and the yellow with turmeric and coriander. From there, the restaurant lists a few ways to “pack your bowl” — filling options include everything from cardamom rice with marinated peppers and hazelnut dukkah to marinated beets and snap peas in a sumac dressing. The bowl finishes with a choice of zhugs (hot sauces), tahina, toum (garlic sauce), or the Iraqi pickled mango sauce amba.
“The Mama Sesame concept is something Kasey has been playing with something for a long time,” Renee Gorham says. “With the takeout model, it makes sense: It’s barely a restaurant, it’s such a small space, but we saw the need for something like that in the area. Any chance we have to bring back staff, we’re taking it.”