NY Garden Kabobs
46-I Gerard St., Huntington.
AMBIENCE: Tidy, tiled cafe and takeout counter with open kitchen
SERVICE: Slow but chatty
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner every day but Monday; handicapped accessible; BYOB; municipal parking lots nearby.
Spices, skewered meat, flame. It’s a winning formula, but seems deceptively simple to pull off well. Oz Sidiqi, who’s been firing kebabs inside a tucked-away Huntington storefront since December, may have mastered its strokes.
Sidiqi grew up in Afghanistan, but channels and reinterprets flavors from a swath of countries. Chicken might be marinated in tikka spices, for instance, but emerges from the grill much less spicy than its Indian counterpart. The flatbread Sidiqi makes daily is called naan, but is denser and chewier than its subcontinental cousin. Saffron and cumin are in heavy rotation, and lamb, a Middle Eastern staple, is always available here.
Sidiqi learned to cook from his mother before the family left Kabul during the Soviet invasion, when he was 17. They settled first in France’s Alsace region, where the chef spent 14 years before making his way to New York City. There, he met his wife, Leila, also Afghan.
Cooking and eating out in the city were the couple’s passions. A few years ago, lamenting the lack of kebab places with fresh bread and high-quality meat, Sidiqi opened his own, Ariana Kebab Palace, in Queens. He ran it for two years before tiring of the commute from Suffolk County. When the Middle Eastern takeout spot Tasty American Coo Coo closed on (or rather, behind) Gerard Street last year, the Sidiqis took it over — opening up the space, adding some tables, hanging artwork. The result: A kitchen and takeout counter on one side, a tiny, tiled cafe on the other.
Between them is a glass wall through which one can watch Sidiqi at work: Stirring pans of basmati rice spiked with cumin and onions; loading skewered meat onto flames; draping ovals of dough over a cotton pillow to shape them first, then sliding them into a steel tandoor oven from which they emerge slightly charred and chewy.
That naan makes frequent appearances here: As a bed for kebabs, for instance, or alongside hummus. The menu at NY Garden Kabobs is succinct, and squarely focused on the main event: grilled meat and seafood. It can make dining here seem one-note — which might grow old quickly if the kebabs weren’t so enticing.
Petite, peppery lamb chops flamed to perfect char. Chunks of salmon that taste as if they’ve taken a bath in lemon, but remain succulent after firing. Intensely garlicky koobideh kebabs, with chicken or ground beef, flecked with herbs and tender enough to be broken apart with a fork. Grilled shrimp, tinged with saffron, that retain their snap. Slivers of tender flat iron steak, or barg, which, when layered onto naan and slathered with sweet, bright-pink beet dressing, makes for a valiant lunch. Equally filling: chicken shawarma, citrusy ribbons of dark meat folded into a wrap.
These kebabs can also be spooned over Sidiqi’s excellent, fluffy rice (go for seasoned). But the iceberg salads that come with each meal are forgettable, as is the falafel.
While takeout trade is steady, it’s less common to see people in the dining room, at least during dinner. That’s a shame, as there, you might kick off a meal with a bowl of that hummus, dusted with sumac, or bolanee, a crisp Frisbee of fried pastry hiding spinachy innards (which, like most fried food, probably doesn’t travel well).
No matter what you order, leave extra time. Despite appearances, this is not fast food. Sidiqi takes great care in the details, but the result is long waits. Call at least 45 minutes ahead for takeout. If dining in, have the staff open your bottle (it’s BYOB), people-watch from one of the outside tables, and trust that the wait will be worth it.