Newsday's Scott Vogel visited Kabab Platter & Burger to try the crazy kabab roll that transformed this Deer Park restaurant's business. Credit: Randee Daddona

One August morning two years ago, Mohammad Umar and Mohammad Nadeem, who are brothers, showed up for work at Kabab Platter & Burger, discovering to their surprise that there was a line outside. Near the front of it, people were peering through the glass at their small Deer Park eatery, which is in a strip center wedged between a deli and a hair salon. Further back, some were squatting in lawn chairs, like they’d been camping out all night for concert tickets.

Fearing that something terrible had occurred, the men hesitated before approaching. Neither could figure out why a mixed crowd of locals and those further afield — Patchogue, Queens, New Jersey — had suddenly descended on the restaurant, or why all of them were clamoring for their "crazy" kebab, a treat that Umar had dreamed up one day when he’d nothing better to do. By then, he and Nadeem had pretty much decided that Kabab Platter was a failed venture.

“In the beginning we struggled, and then the pandemic hit and we had more struggles,” recalled Nadeem, who took over Kabab Platter with his brother in 2019. As the worst of 2020 dragged on, they fed front-line workers and emergency responders, hospital personnel and North Babylon School District students. But paying customers were few and far between, and most days Nadeem sat idle behind the counter while Umar fiddled in the kitchen. “I was sending everybody home because there just wasn’t business.”

“Everything had slowed down,” Umar added. “That’s when we came up with this idea in the kitchen, a simple idea really.”

A CRAZY KEBOB IS BORN

When Ammad Sheikh, one of the restaurant’s few regular patrons, stopped by for dinner one Friday evening, Umar asked if he’d give it a taste.

“And I said, ‘you know what? Sure, why not?’” said Sheikh, 44, who lives in Plainview. “He brought it out and I literally said, ‘what is this?’”

It was about eight inches long and resembled a sausage roll, except the meat was a mixture of minced chicken, peppers and onions. As per usual, Umar had baked it on a skewer in Kabab Platter’s tandoor, but only till it was about three-quarters done. At that point, he removed it from the clay oven, rolled the kebab in a thin layer of naan dough, then returned it to the oven for five minutes or so before brushing the bread with butter and serving the roll to Sheikh.

“He said, ‘just try it.’” Sheikh took one bite and looked up at Umar. “You have a hit on your hands,” he said.

“It’s the perfect to-go item,” added Dix Hills resident Raza Dastgir, 37, Sheikh’s friend and business partner, with whom he founded the Halal Guide in 2019, a Facebook and Instagram group connecting halal observers with Long Island restaurants. The seekh kebab is among the most popular of halal dishes and nothing new, but when most restaurants serve it, he explained, “they put the kebab in the naan and they just roll it all together, and it’s dripping and everything with the sauce. It’s messy. This is grab and go.”

Umar’s creation was simple yet unique, familiar yet game-changing, at least potentially, but no one knew what to call it. Umar again turned to Sheikh, whose brainstorming yielded lots of ideas, from the bizarro to the inside-out roll. “Nah,” he thought to himself, “all those names are crazy.”

Bingo.

“Wrapping the seekh kebab is a mess,” said Noor Ali, a North Babylon fan. “But the crazy kebab isn’t.”

“I’m a realtor, so I’m always driving around,” offered another, Deer Park resident Hamza Khamisa, 26. “You can eat it while you’re driving, which is probably not safe, but it’s convenient,” he added with a laugh. “The sauces aren’t flying everywhere, the kebab’s not falling out of the bread.”

It’s also economical at $4.99 and, more to the point, scrumptious. While the modestly-spiced chicken is marinated the night before, everything else about the crazy kebab is made to order. The dough — stretchy, translucent and wrapped as tightly as an Ace bandage — bakes into the sizzling meat, sealing in the juices, and yet despite the tandoor’s extreme heat, the naan finishes soft with only a light char. A few squirts of white or mint sauce, and you’ve got yourself a cheap, delicious meal.

Mohammad Umar, co-owner of Kabab Platter & Burger in Deer Park...

Mohammad Umar, co-owner of Kabab Platter & Burger in Deer Park cooks his "crazy" kebabs. Credit: Randee Daddona

HALAL FOOD ON LONG ISLAND

Still, tasty though Umar’s kebab was, it might have languished in obscurity if Dastgir and Sheikh hadn’t rhapsodized about it on the Halal Guide, a community that these days boasts over 20,000 members. “There’s so many different types of cuisines that serve halal, and we wanted to bring everything together for everyone and show that diversity,” said Dastgir.

“A lot of people think it’s chicken over rice, but it’s a lot more than that,” added Sheikh. “This was an opportunity to showcase that to the non-Muslim community — and for the Muslim community, to give them something that they’ve been yearning for.”

One of the things they were yearning for, it turns out, is the crazy kebab. On Aug. 9, 2020, the Halal Guide’s founders posted a message about their find. “We were blown away!” it read in part. “It is like someone identified a major void in the kebab market and addressed a need we never knew we had.” Despite being themselves members of the Halal Guide group, neither Umar nor Nadeem had seen the post when they arrived at Kabab Platter the next day, although judging by the line, they were in the minority.

After that, word spread even further, and soon a struggling business was becoming a crazy success, one they haven’t always been prepared for. “There was a time when we had to tell people there was a six- or seven-hour waiting time,” said Nadeem. The brothers had to buy a second tandoor to meet the daily demand for 500 or so crazy kebabs, with fans often buying them in bulk. One New Jersey woman took an Uber to Deer Park just to buy 50, and at a Halal Guide-sponsored Eid Festival in Bay Shore in July, Kabab Platter sold more than 3,000 in a matter of hours.

Of late, the crazy kebab has been championed by halal observants as far away as Canada, India and Pakistan, as well as by the non-halal next door — literally. Betty Pipia runs the neighboring deli but still comes in for dinner at least once a week. “I’m hooked,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite foods, definitely.”

“This really took off in all different societies, not just the Muslim,” said Umar, still a bit surprised. “I have all different kinds of customers coming in.”

And while the craze for the kebabs stands at just two years and counting, the days of Nadeem and Umar twiddling their thumbs in a quiet restaurant already seem like ancient history. “Now we need two people just at the counter, and sometimes three on the weekend,” said Nadeem. “And that’s besides the six in the kitchen.”

Kabab Platter & Burger is at 297 Bay Shore Rd., in Deer Park, 631-522-1002, kababplatterandburgers.com. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.

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