Lunch review: Cafe Kabul

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

"Politics and religion divide us, but the universal language of homestyle cooking can provide us with a common human vocabulary," I said to my smiling dining partner as we contentedly nodded our postprandial heads. Since the meal we'd just finished was so quaintly gratifying, she kindly overlooked my unfortunate propensity for grand pronouncement-making.

It'd been one of those days when lunch was calling - loudly - but other than something cheap, we couldn't agree on what we should eat. I kinda fancied Indian, and she was leaning toward Middle Eastern. Greek was brought up; so was Italian.

As this un-fun verbal tug of war began to drag on, we caught ourselves, stopped and quickly hopped into the car with the shaky hope that providence would steer us in the right direction. Unlikely as it sounds, that's exactly what happened when we lucked into the satisfying $9 buffet lunch we saw advertised in the window at Cafe Kabul. Bonus: The easily likable foods on that Afghan restaurant's buffet would be instantly recognizable and thoroughly devourable to fans of the ethnic cuisines we'd previously been haggling over.

If you've never been, Cafe Kabul is a counter-ordering, repurposed fast fooder. Humble but plucky, it's rescued from abject bareness by fanciful tapestries hung on peach-tinted walls (one ornate rug is adorned with a map and flag of Afghanistan) as well as an intricately stitched and pleated ceremonial dress of many colors.

On that sunny Friday afternoon, the place fortunately had a good little crowd going - and everyone was digging the fine buffet service (instituted about a month ago). Here's what we ate.

•Afghan bread - Though not warm, and thicker and more pillowy, it sorta resembled sesame-seed-sprinkled Turkish pide.

• Hummus - coarse, rich and altogether excellent

• Sabsi - homey and simple, this sauteed and pureed spinach, onion and garlic dish was surprisingly flavorful and comforting

• Chicken Korma - boneless, skinless breast chunks in a zingy little tomato sauce brightened by cilantro

• Ground Beef and Vegetables - One of my favorites here, this tomatoey and soulful melange had curryish and korma-y flavors, and was packed with corn, green beans, peas and more

• Eggplant - rich, sweet, unctuous, long-cooked with tomato, and another favorite

• Chicken legs - braised in a light and basic tomato sauce, this tasted like real Italian grandma stuff

• Vegetable pakoras - crackly chickpea-battered fritters loved in millions of Indian restaurants, these fun crunchers pointed to Cafe Kabul's prevalent (but much less spicy) Indian influences. I found the cauliflower clusters the most delectable.

Cafe Kabul

2831 Olentangy River Rd., Campus