Thursday, April 21, 2011

What is a Shawarma and Where Do I Get One?

By Donna Perezella
In the predominantly-Jewish town of Brookline resides the most unusual of residents — Shawarma King — a Lebanese-owned and operated casual eatery — serving mouth-watering Middle Eastern fare such as fabulous falafels, heavenly hummus, and baklava to boast about. Don't be fooled by this nondescript storefront on Beacon Street, for once inside, you'll find that both the food and the diners are far from ordinary.

A Coolidge Corner fixture since 1992, a quick magic-carpet ride will take you to this Middle Eastern Mecca, culturally intoxicating — both gastronomically and visually. Its clients are curiously diverse. Often seated at many of the twelve tables is the Koran-carrying crowd, Middle Eastern men who converse, as well as order, only in Arabic. Groups of college students, looking for great food at great prices, come here for both. Modestly-dressed Middle Eastern women wearing hijab gather for both conversation and camaraderie.

Shawarma King's prize namesakes — its shawarmas – three skewers of beef, lamb, and chicken —are a permanent fixture vertically rotating behind the counter. Not a meat eater, it's hard for me to understand what I witness –grown man salivating as they anxious place their orders.


Its menu features no less than one hundred and five items, plus four daily specials, written on a board, in Arabic on the left, English on the right. Roll-up meat sandwiches, straight off the shawarma, range in price from $5.95 to $6.99. All are served in typical Lebanese pita bread and come with an assortment of traditional Middle Eastern sides.

Finding myself ordering off the reliable vegetarian menu again, I decide to shake things up a bit and deviate from my usual – the never-disappointing falafel rollup ($4.95). Fool Moudammas ($4.95), boiled fava beans and chick peas tastefully seasoned with onions, parsley, lemon juice and garlic, are magically blended together. The result — my taste buds are pleasantly surprised by this grilled greatness.

Mark, however, is not as adventurous and sticks with the tried-and-true — the vegetarian grape-leaves roll-up ($4.95). His sandwich disappears in a Beirut minute as he devours in just five mouthfuls this overstuffed gem of grape leaves, rice, tomatoes, and parsley — blended to perfection in a delicious olive- oil mixture.

While savoring my Fool (the sandwich, not the husband), I take in the atmosphere of Shawarma King, that touchingly pays tribute to the owners’ homeland. Wonderful photos of Lebanon adorn its walls; dozens of picture postcards, all well worn, perhaps just faded memories of the land they left behind. Two "hookahs" (bong-like water pipes for after-dinner tobacco smoking found in some traditional Middle Eastern restaurants) sit atop a shelf.

I find Shawarma King delightfully entertaining for its no-frills ambience and no-nonsense attitude. With its twelve dollar credit card minimum, no-name ATM machine and its sign informing its guests that this is a self-service restaurant and you are required to bus your own table.

Sides are sensuously satisfying — I can never resist their homemade hummus ($4.49 small/$7.99 large). With warm pita bread straight from the oven, it is easy to devour this creamy blend of chickpeas and olive oil harmoniously spiced that would satisfy even a shiekh.

If you have a family (or harem) to feed, dinner plates are a must. The vegetarian combo ($11.99), a marvelous medley of hummus, baba ghanouj (eggplant), salad, rice, falafel (fried ground chick peas rolled into balls), stuffed grape leaves, tabbouli (chopped greens), is topped with a deliciously tangy tahini sauce.

We marvel over the melt-in-your-mouth spectacular spinach pie ($2.99), savory spinach and chopped onions mixed with lemon juice and baked in a buttery phylo dough crust. My advice to spinach lovers – order two.

Save room for dessert, for Shawarma King offers thirteen sinful sweets that are all homemade. Warning: these exotic sweets are not your grandma's chocolate chip cookies. From baklava (honey triangles of phylo dough filled with nuts $2.49) to Kunafeh ($4.49), a traditional sweet cake topped with rosewater syrup.

Settle in with a Jalla, an exotic beverage made with raisins and rosewater ($2.99), and in no time you will find yourself humming to the words of Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis."

Shawarma King is conveniently located in Brookline Coolidge Corner at 1383 Beacon Street. Phone: 617-731-6035. Hours: open seven days a week from noon to 10 PM, and until 9 PM on Sundays and Mondays. Plenty of on-street parking, whether you come by car or by camel. Conveniently located on the Green Line’s "C” train, Coolidge Corner stop.

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