Venue Review: La Shish Kabob
The Charlotte Observer
3117 N. Sharon Amity Road; 704-567-7900
Here’s what matters at La Shish Kabob: rich flavors, juicy rotisserie chicken, char-edged kabobs and whether you show some enthusiasm.
Here’s what doesn’t: Whether you consider this food Middle Eastern, Levantine, or attribute it to any specific country, region or place, or where among those (if any) you personally are from.
Also not mattering: spelling. Kabob and kebob, humus and hommos, grape leaves and yalanji – between the place’s signs and its menu, all these appear. And fancy digs: These are not.
Izzat Freitekh owns it. He came here from Jerusalem, where he was also in the business – “27 years now, thank God” – and has built it sufficiently in the last year and a half to need help from family and a seven- or eight-person staff.
He says his clientele is international: “American, Mexican, Syrian, Senegal, all the Middle East from Egypt on, students from UNCC … from Sudan. Turkish. Irani… And Jewish.”
What we tend to call Middle Eastern cuisine is a flexibly defined one – people of many lands make hummus and falafel and baklava differently – so if you’re the sort who uses “authentic” to mean “exactly the way my mom made it,” be careful.
But if you appreciate enveloping warmth and a cup of hot mint tea while you wait, the sound of several languages in conversation at once and being able to see your food prepared in simple, small surroundings, this is your kind of place.
Freitekh makes nearly everything in house, from the tabouli that takes two or three people to the hot-pepper sauces called skhug (just ask for the red hot sauce or the green one).
Some salient facts for the general consumer:
Shawarma here is made with chunks of chicken, pickle and onions on housemade, bubbly bread that’s nearly paper thin, not the thickish pita you may be used to, though you can ask for it on pita. (But don’t. The pita’s not made in house.)
Hummus is pureed, but served with whole chickpeas and a generous pour of olive oil as well.
Baba ghanouj here is not completely smooth, some of the eggplant is still in bits, and the smoky flavor is stronger than most.
Kabobs include the Turkish adana, a mix of ground lamb and red pepper, grilled on flat, sword-like skewers rather than the thinner ones used for lamb, beef or chicken. Don’t miss the slightly salty Turkish yogurt drink called ayran. It’s in the drink cooler at one end of the grill side of the room. Gyros are more evenly proportioned – meat and lettuce and tomato – than most, and these do come on pita.
Stuffed grape leaves are soft, more loosely constructed, and lush with oil.
Falafel, fat and crunchy, aren’t garlicky as many are: Garlic lovers, just ask for the sauce called toum. Or just ask for the garlic sauce – no worries about particular names here.
Freitekh serves wings, cheeseburgers and Philly cheese steaks, too, and you can have your Philly made with beef or chicken or lamb. People who don’t know the Middle Eastern dishes start with a burger, Freitekh says, and then maybe try a falafel. “We go step by step.”
On my last visit, I watched two young men share a lamb shank and whole chicken tidily, speaking Arabic. Two tables away were a middle-aged pair, animatedly English-speaking. Two young African-American guys walked in, figuring aloud how much could possibly be too much chicken. An older man, looking business-like, came in with a rush, bringing two police officers in uniform with him and ordering for them enthusiastically. He murmured “Gracias” to the line cook who handed him a plate of pickles.
“The good here,” says Freitekh, is “… no color, no religion here. We all are happy.” That was this past Tuesday night: a good night to watch his door keep swinging open, and hear the loud, old-fashioned doorbell chime again and again. We go step by step.