Double Your Kabob
Two Suburban Joints Offer Sub-Par Persian
My fair lady has sniffed out a pair of untried kabob joints, so C.C. and I hit the road in search of skewered snacks. Our travels take us north of the city, to a charming suite of rooms well up the York Road corridor, and west along Liberty Road to a small Persian eatery sharing mall-front space with a bagel joint. We didn't find superb kabobs, but we did find reasons enough to recommend the places if you're out their way.
We made two visits to Side Street Café in Cockeysville. On the first, around lunchtime, we were charmed by the small connecting rooms, the mix of wooden tables and chairs, the pink and dark green walls covered with a wild variety of framed prints. C.C. started with a cup of minestrone ($2), which packed more of a spicy punch than most versions of the Italian staple soup. A gyro on pita bread with French fries ($6.26, $5.75 without fries) was much to her liking--fresh ingredients, well prepared. The same could be said of my tuna salad deluxe ($6.25), a scoop of good tuna salad atop a large garden salad. Nothing extraordinary, just a nice lunch in a nice place for not a lot of scratch.
We brought our pals Collin and Raquel for dinner one night about a month later. The soups (all $2 for a cup) were a hit. Raquel loved the Maryland crab, a hearty, peppery vegetable concoction. (There wasn't a great deal of crab, but how much lump can you expect for two bucks?) My cup of cream-of-potato was thick with spuds, carrots, and celery and lacked that cream-soup gumminess. Collin's chili, a homemade affair of ground beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, and green peppers, wasn't as spicy as he would have liked it, and it was a bit on the thin side (stirring in a dollop of shredded cheddar helped). But there was nothing thin about the stew's bold flavor. We also shared an order of onion rings ($1.75), which were greasy but good, with a hint of sweetness in the batter.
After enjoying a house salad ($4.75, the usual gussied up a bit with hard-boiled egg and bacon), Collin got a beef kabob ($7.50). The meat was thin, not terribly tender, and rather tasteless. And--prepare for punch line--such a small portion! Raquel's chicken kabob ($6.50) was tender, but also not as flavorful as one hopes to find in spice-stacked Persian kitchens. But the base under both kabobs, a nice basmati rice with saffron and grilled green pepper and onion, made up a little for the bland meat.
C.C. and I stayed on the more American side of the menu, she going to town with a chicken cheese-steak sandwich ($5.75), a fowl variation on the Philly standard served with steak fries. Hearty and delicious, she proclaimed. My Reuben ($5.75) would have been laughed out of Attman's, but it wasn't bad. The Swiss-cheese-topped corned beef was lean, delicious, and piled respectably high, but there was little sauerkraut and just a hint of Thousand Island dressing. The side duo of potato chips and macaroni salad struck me as a bit redundant, starchwise, but C.C.--who thinks chips go with everything--disagreed.
Habib's Kabob in Eldersburg isn't much for ambiance, although a few Iranian touches--a colorful photo of the ancient city of Persepolis, wood cuts used to stamp fabric, a few textile hangings--do compete with the bagel motif. The menu is small and kabob-centric, and prices are right.
Starters of stuffed grape leaves ($4.95) and grilled mushrooms ($1.25) readied us while the skewers were put to the flames. The leaves, a bit tangy with vinegar, were wrapped around a meatless rice filling. They were accompanied by a light, refreshing serving of mast-khiar (homemade yogurt with fresh mint and shredded cucumber) and wedges of just-baked flat bread. The mushrooms, eight big ones, charred but juicy, had been lightly sprinkled with sumac, a traditional spice. Plain but delicious. The combo would make a fine meal for a thrifty vegetarian.
The kabobs themselves failed to meet C.C.'s high standards, although she did allow that the accompanying basmati rice was "perfect." The barg (beef chunks) kabob ($7.50 with just bread, $8.75 with bread and rice) were nicely flavored but not nicely tender. The joojeh (chicken) kabob ($6.25, $7.75) likewise had hearty flavor--indicating quality poultry and a good marinade--but proved a mite dry. C.C. and I parted ways on the issue of the koobideh (ground beef) kabob ($5.50, $6.75)--I liked the addition of minced onion, but C.C. felt the meat, while lean, lacked traditional Persian flavor. We agreed, however, on Habib's two tandoori bread offerings, a slightly sweet traditional flat bread and a thinner, almost crackerlike bread topped with sesame seed. We liked both.
To finish up, we shared a serviceable walnut baklava ($2). It's Greek-style, C.C. pointed out, noting that Persian baklava is scented with rose water and made with almonds and sometimes pistachios, not walnuts. Sometimes it's not easy living with a Persian-food purist.