They go by many names. Some are so elusive, the names may as well be aliases. But they could be what saves us. They are, after all, where everyone comes together. Greeks and Turks, Muslims and Christians alike can all get behind the kebab (anglicized Turkish spelling), the kabob (Afghan version), the döner, and the gyro.
Michael Turk and his business partner, Tony, serve excellent döner kebabs (the Turkish grandfather of the Greek gyro) at Bazlamas, a trailer that they park between the amphitheater and Garrett Hall on Grounds at lunchtime, when school is in. You can also catch them outside of the brand new Champion Brewing Company on Sixth Street SE, Thursday through Saturday evenings. They use halal beef and lamb ground together and seasoned with oregano, thyme, black and marash pepper, and paprika. They pile in crisp vegetables and ladle on the thing that sets them apart —their sauce: a garlic yogurt base with Turkish olive oil, Turkish tahini, and four Turkish spices. It all gets rolled up in a warm homemade pita for $6.49 or served open face with side and drink for $9.99. There’s also a veggie option. Make it a point to find these guys. They’re on Twitter @bazlamas.
At the wise behest of the other occupant of this newsprint, Megan J. Headley, I sought out Angelo Vangelopoulos at the Ivy Inn, who it turns out is the direct descendent of gyro royalty. His father used to have the great gyro shop Icarus in Georgetown, D.C., before throwing in with Angelo to buy the Ivy Inn in 1995. The Ivy serves a small gyro as part of a lamb platter entrée. Angelo grinds pork, beef, and lamb together, spices it just so, bakes it in a pâté mold, then slices it into gyro units. Then there’s tomato, onion, cilantro, feta, and creamy tzatziki on pita. It’s marvelous. Only thing is, it’s $30.
Strict Virginia health regulations deter most döner and gyro purveyors from setting up rotisserie spits—which are common in big cities and across Europe—and carving the meat off the spit to order. “If the health inspector sticks a thermometer in the meat and it’s above 41 or below 135 degrees,” one chef told me, “you’ll have to throw it out.” So most make due with pre-cooked meats that they reheat on a griddle.
Ariana Grill Kabob House on West Main puts out a right fine gyro, but last time I was there I went for the kofta kabob, an Afghan delight of seasoned ground beef packed into links, skewered, and grilled. It comes on basmati rice with hot greens and fresh bread for $9.95.
Three months ago, Mansur and Mustafa, brothers of Turkish descent from Caucasus Russia, opened M&M Lounge and Restaurant where the Outback Lounge used to sit. They serve beef and chicken kebabs, chunks of meat marinated overnight in vinegar with onions, pepper, and “secret ingredients.” They don’t serve lamb kebabs because, Mansur reckons, “Americans tend to eat too slow for lamb. Lamb isn’t as good after it’s been sitting.”
Wait, Americans eat slow? I will pull the last flap of flesh that I just burned off of the roof of my mouth and, without so much as taking another breath, sink my teeth right back into the piping hot gyro that scalded me in the first place.
Anyway, the kebabs are grilled over charcoal and served on rice with a salad, homemade bread, and a dipping bowl of lemon juice and olive oil. As a platter, it’s $12.95, but you can get it in a wrap for $8.75.
Sultan Kebab is a Turkish restaurant tucked into a stealthy little strip mall at 1710 Seminole Trail. There is almost no chance you’ll happen to just notice this place as you’re whizzing up 29N, but it’s there serving up excellent halal lamb, chicken, and döner kebabs, plus a full menu of Turkish fare.