Kabobshak Mediterranean Grill
680 Middle Country Rd., Selden
SERVICE: Order at the counter for eat in and takeout
AMBIENCE: Personality free but clean as a whistle
ESSENTIALS: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., wheelchair accessible
Once upon a time, before the Cronut conquered Instagram and Kit Kat milkshakes became Facebook stars, a breed of diners called Chowhounds roamed the Earth, hunting for terrific food in unexpected places. After a successful meal, they would share the experience with other Chowhounds by painting pictures on the walls of their cave — well, actually, by writing posts on a bare-bones website that featured neither photographs nor push alerts nor pop-up ads.
Kabobshak Mediterranean Grill, which opened almost a year ago in Selden, put me in mind of those glory days of chowhound.com, founded 20 years ago and now, eclipsed by the social media it prefigured, a shadow of its former self.
The unassuming eatery ticks all the Chowhound boxes: dreary location, modest-to-nonexistent décor, charismatic chef and, most of all, soulful food that transports the diner to another part of the world — in Kabobshak’s case, to the Middle East.
Tarik Yasin, who emigrated from Jordan in 1997, owns the place with his brother Jamal Yassen and niece, manager Alia Yassen, but much of the time he runs the kitchen single-handedly. There’s no wall between the dining room and the open kitchen, so you’ll see him calmly grilling kebabs, slicing shawarma, frying falafel, composing salads — as well as taking phone orders and manning the register.
Kebabs, grilled over charcoal, are all terrific. Choose among lamb, beef, a supernally juicy chicken, or kofta, a mixture of ground beef and lamb. The Halby kebab, a specialty of Lebanon, is a kofta topped with a slaw of shredded carrots and chopped olives rendered spicy by “shutta,” an aromatic Levantine hot sauce. Cool your palate with the slim, suave pickles made from Persian cucumbers.
Just as good as the kebabs, and much rarer on Long Island, is the shawarma, Middle Eastern cousin to the Greek gyro and Turkish doner kebab, a tall stack of seasoned slices of meat that rotates on a vertical spit while heating elements on either side brown the exterior. At Kabobshak, one spit holds a layered combination of beef knuckle and leg of lamb, whose marinade includes a haunting note of cardamom. On the other spit is chicken with an unexpected kick of fennel.
All meat platters come with your choice of sides, and I’m going to warn you off the fries which, though dusted with the thyme-and-sumac-driven spice blend za’atar, are of the crinkle-cut, frozen ilk and not worthy of the meats they accompany.
You are going to want to get the shawarma in a sandwich because Kabobshak makes its own pita bread from scratch. Once it’s stuffed full of meat and vegetables, it gets a drizzle of tahini sauce, sesame paste that Yasin has deepened with garlic and lightened with yogurt.
Despite its meat-centric moniker, Kabobshak is great for vegetarians. Scooping up mouthfuls of the well-balanced babaganoush is yet another task expertly performed by the fresh pita. Hummus, made with only 9-mm chickpeas (Yasin’s “weapon of choice”) that are soaked overnight, is smooth and bright.
Those chickpeas — along with cilantro, onion and garlic — figure in the falafel, whose batter passes twice through the grinder for the correct texture. You also can get falafel that has been stuffed with a little cache of spicy vegetables. Spicy or not, you will want your falafel in a pita sandwich.
The fresh salads can be clunky. The fattoush, with unripe winter tomatoes, a haphazard welter of peppers, radishes, cucumbers and carrots topped with chunks of fried pita, never comes together. Nor did the Kabobshak salad, though it’s worth ordering just for the seared slabs of akkawi (a brined Palestinian cheese similar to mozzarella, but with a firmer texture and a distinctive “squeaky” mouthfeel. )
But the tabbouleh is a must-order. Too often this salad is treated as a cold grain dish, a sodden heap of bulgur with a green tinge, but Kabobshak’s verdantly vegetal version leans heavily on parsley, the world’s most underappreciated herb.
Desserts are all homemade. My favorite was the halvah, an elemental confection made with sesame seeds, sugar (not too much) and pistachio nuts.
If you live in north Central Suffolk, I congratulate you on your proximity to Selden. If you don’t, I urge to you make the trip. Kabobshak is worth it.