Review: Kebab King fills fast-but-not-fast-food niche with somewhat mixed results
It's hard to know if Kebab King serves fast food. The category isn't as clear as it once was. It's fast, to be sure. And it has all the trappings of fast food - disposable plates and utensils, paper cups and a very basic interior. Perhaps it's because we're not used to kebabs, gyro and shawerma as fast food, but the fare at Kebab King doesn't seem like fast food.
Of course, it's common convenience food, even street food, in much of the world, and in a good many cities in America. But here in the Midwest it's considerably rarer. Kebab King fills a place somewhere between fast food and the niche that Café Aladdin has occupied in Fargo for years, and it does it with mixed results.
If you set aside paper-ware, presentation is pleasant enough and the flat-screen menu doesn't do the colors you find on your plate much justice. Ingredients are fresh and well prepared.
In a cuisine where cucumbers and tomatoes can make or break a dish on freshness, color and brightness, your meal will almost certainly be made rather than broken. Flavors are distinct. Seasonings are composed. Traditional flavors are evident and clearly understood.
But, while it may fall short of disappointment, you get the feeling something is missing. And it's in the meat. Mostly beef, it's very lean. Flavor depends on seasoning and marinades, but it sacrifices moisture. In traditional Middle Eastern and Turkish cooking, dishes rely heavily on fat for this quality.
Whether or not using lean meat is intentional isn't really the question. You just feel that you're missing something of the body and breadth of the dishes without the level of fat you'd expect.
To be fair, dishes compensate with excellent condiments such as the very good tzatziki served with most of the entrees and dishes like shawerma lend themselves to using condiments to add moisture to meat. But the beef ultimately suffers a little for the limited fat.
Many of the dishes are available as combos or plates adding a drink or sides for $2 to $4 more. The rice is less complex as one would hope but, again, fresh vegetables help compensate. Good choices include the traditional shish kebab, which relies heavily on tomatoes for moisture and benefits, again, from their freshness. But at $12.99 as a plate, it seems a bit on the expensive side.
There are some pleasant surprises. The baba ghanoush ($6.99) is very good through and through. Served with fresh pita, this garlicky, smoky roasted eggplant dish is drizzled with a bright, crisp olive oil and makes for a vegetarian meal as well as it does an appetizer.
The menu is somewhat limited but there are a few interesting drinks in the cooler including a basil seed and honey drink, a nod to Asia and a bit of a nice distraction from the ubiquitous soda machines.
Service is pleasant and the people there seem genuinely interested in seeing you enjoy your meal. The atmosphere is fast food and nothing to talk about. It's good to see more Middle Eastern choices and hopefully offerings like this will stretch palates enough to make Fargo still friendlier to ethnic options.
Eric Daeuber writes a monthly column in The Forum. He is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 2424 13th Ave. S., Fargo, ND 58103
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Food: Two stars
Service: Two and a half stars
Ambiance: One star