Restaurant review: Shish Kebab Mediterranean Grill is a Turkish delight

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Shish Kebab Mediterranean Grill on Bethel Road is a proverbial “hidden gem.” Past its mundane name and blah strip mall setting, this sometimes overlooked place shines with handsome furnishings and terrific Turkish dishes.

If you’re new to Turkish food, it’s an easy-to-love cuisine sharing much with Middle Eastern fare. Expect plenty of healthy vegetable dips, yogurt preparations and a predilection for lean grilled meats.

Shish Kebab’s scene for this stars dark and grainy polished wood that’s all-encompassing. It serves as the restaurant’s distinct walls, and is carved into a small bar where a muted TV doesn’t interfere with the pulsing, ethnically appropriate music.

Once seated — I recommend a roomy booth — you’ll be gifted with a free and addictive appetizer: dimpled oval loaves of crusty and toasty house “pide” bread served with an olive oil-based condiment made with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and rosemary.

To maximize your fun, stick with the Turkish theme when ordering drinks. Dark or light, sweet-side Efes beers will do the trick, but I prefer the red (yakut) and white (cankaya) wines made by Kavaklidere ($7 per glass).

I’m also a fan of the sweet anise-flavored liquor similar to ouzo called raki ($7). When consumed with ice and water — as it should be — the clear spirit turns cloudy, and is then referred to as “lion’s milk.” Rawr!

These beverages, especially raki, go great with the Appetizer Sampler ($18), a massive and fantastic, traditional meze platter (Turkish tapas). The serves-four bonanza is a colorful wheel of dips with different spokes denoted by oil-cured olives, tiny serving spoons and wedges of tomato and cucumber.

It’s a vegetarian snacking sensation (or meal) that includes: the best baba ganoush in town (tangy, rich, not overly smoky); haydari (cream cheese-thick yogurt dip with hints of dill and mint); ezme (think spicy, walnut-y salsa); dense and cumin-y hummus; ratatouille-like chilled “eggplant with sauce”; lemony tabuli; pinto beans in tomato sauce; and cinnamon-scented grape leaves.

Among the warm starters, there’s excellent Lentil Soup ($4.50) and Zucchini Pancakes ($7). Though a tad oily, my craggy quartet of shredded zucchini and carrot pancakes were delightfully fried to crunchy golden-brown, eggy and delicious. Feta sprinkles and tart yogurt on the side heightened their appeal.

Abundant entree options include hearty stews and casseroles, but taking my cue from this place’s name, I went with the built-for-two (at least) Mixed Grill Kebab ($26). It’s an impressive meat-athon served with cacik (similar to tart tzatziki), white rice and a lively sauteed veggie medley.

The fragrant kebab parade marches in with an army of juicy and tender, grill-seared chicken perked up by a flattering marinade; lean, mild lamb chunks; springy logs of sausage-y ground lamb (adana) redolent of parsley, onion and whiffs of chili; doner kebab — intensely flavored homemade gyro meat that shames those ubiquitous factory-formed cylinders.

When ordered singly, these meats can be served “Iskender style” (Kebabs with yogurt), a real treat. This yin-yang preparation places kebabs on a bed of diced house bread fried into croutons and tossed with thick yogurt. On top goes a pizza-like tomato sauce.

Among recurring daily specials, watch for the luscious Lamb Tandir ($22). A beloved Turkish classic, Shish Kebab’s version is low and slow-cooked succulent pot roast-y meat paired with rice and comforting mashed eggplant capped with blistered mozzarella cheese. Grilled pita triangles and versatile cacik are on hand for fashioning little sandwiches.

Mozzarella reappears encased in a shredded wheat pastry disc called Kunefe($8). Huge, sprinkled with crushed pistachios and lightly sweetened by sugar syrup, it’s a cheese course and dessert in one fell — and inspired — swoop. Enjoying it with viscous Turkish coffee might help you forget that the friendly service here can be ponderously slow.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Shish Kebab Mediterranean Grill

1450 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side