Shawarma is nothing new. The Middle Eastern culinary staple — which is basically meat on a stick, charcoal-grilled into tender submission — has been around for perhaps thousands of years, a variation on the kebab, the kabob or the gyro.
But as a food trend, shawarma is hot stuff, though it is arguable that once a food trend gets mentioned in a hit movie — as shawarma was in this summer’s The Avengers — the fad is already over.
Thankfully, here in the Triad we are a little behind the curve, which means you can only get shawarma in a couple of places. I found it at Greensboro’s Nazareth Bread Co. & Restaurant, out on West Market Street.
The place is huge, a former gym converted to a gigantic restaurant. The last time I was in this building a wrestling match broke out. It’s the kind of place I call “quality casual,” meaning it’s certainly not fancy, but it delivers the type of fare you cannot match anywhere else, albeit on paper plates and cafeteria trays.
Like Iron Man, I’d been dying to try shawarma, though ordering it at Nazareth was made difficult by a huge menu featuring every Middle Eastern and Mediterranean delicacy I can name: gyro, falafel and hummus; tabouli, baba ganoush and grape leaves; six or seven types of kebab and kabob — yes, they are not necessarily the same thing. Plus they serve a slate of burgers, including a lamb burger that sounds amazing, as well as deli favorites like cheesesteak, pastrami and corned beef.
It’s important to note that the bakery puts out pita, Turkish bread, begates and house rye, wheat and whole-grain loaves, as well as a slew of pastries, cookies and cakes.
But hey: shawarma. Focus! Shawarma comes as a sandwich on house pita, but I go for the platter, which is a big pile of meat served atop pita, with a tahini sauce drizzled over it. As sides, I chose a Greek salad — cold and delicious — and hummus, which may be the best in town. I also got a side of fries, which was kind of a waste.
But the shawarma: It’s just meat, okay, beef and lamb.
But something happens when you cook that meat on a side spit with coals. Something magical. Shawarma is the most tender, flavorful and succulent meat I’ve eaten all year — and I’ve eaten a lot of meat.
In fact, I’ve never had anything quite like shawarma. It’s better quality than gyro meat, which is often shredded and reformed. It’s more tender than anything you can get on a kebab — or, for that matter, a kabob.
In researching this piece, I not only learned how awesome shawarma is, I also learned the difference between kebab and kabob. In Turkish, kebab means “ roasted meat. When the meat is roasted on a skewer, or shish, it is a shis kebab. But shish kabob is a Western dish featuring uniformly sliced hunks of meat interspersed with vegetables on a wooden skewer, cooked over an open flame. You eat shish kabob off the stick. It is not always so with kebab, which can be sliced and piled in sandwiches or on a tray.
Nazareth has both, though I will have difficulty ordering anything but shawarma the next time I go — which should be some time this week; I’ve been planning my return trip since I last walked out the door. Technically, shawarma is a kind of kebab, though. So it’s all good.
Nazareth Bread Co. & Restaurant; 4507 W. Market St., Greensboro; 336.285.6096 (restaurant), 336.285.6446 (bakery); nazarethbread.com