By Bryan Donoghue
To me, there’s nothing compared to a greeting full of warmth. Whether it be the humid sun of the Mediterranean or the staff of Kebab Cafe, genuine warmth is the type of feeling that makes someone feel right at home. Kebab Cafe’s warmth is akin to nostalgia, and you can feel right at home at 5000 Valley West Blvd in Arcata.
Their lighting in the front of the restaurant is fluorescent leading into a dim casual setting in the back of cafe, and the staff welcomes me with a similar brightness as I tell them it’s my first time at the Kebab Cafe. Every team member is open and amiable as they show me the menu, their cabinet display full of fresh food, and even the open grill where the kebabs are made. In their presentation about what’s on the menu, the highlight I chose was the gyro sandwich, and before starting me off with that, I ordered a few dolmas.
I need to attest to the flavor of the dolmas Kebab Cafe makes in house. Dolmas are a unique appetizer among any cuisine. They are seasoned rice and herbs that are tossed together before being formed, and ultimately, wrapped with a grape leaf. It reminds me of a vegan burrito, but with a harmony of Mediterranean tastes, and much smaller in scale. Dolmas tend to be finger food, but Kebab Cafe’s freshly wrapped dolmas feel relatively too small in comparison to dolmas I’ve had previously.
That being said, size isn’t a testament to how they taste. The ratio of flavors is the key impact this dish had. At first bite, my taste buds note a splash of lemon as I bite into the leaf, until the herbs combine with the citrus flavor. The chewy texture of the rice along with the prominent flavors of herb and citrus make these little wrapped bundles delicious. Kebab Cafe’s dolmas are 90 cents each, and I recommend getting more than one.
After I devour the dolmas, I move into the gyro sandwich. Kebab Cafe’s gyro meat is a blend of ground beef and ground lamb that’s first seasoned seasoned until being grilled on a vertical boiler. The meat is thinly sliced and served inside a warm pita with a combination of raw onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. You choose your sauce, with the choices being either tzatziki or red sauce. I chose tzatziki, a sauce made from yogurt and cucumbers that have a tangy kick. In accompaniment to the dolmas, this was the absolute best follow up I could have chosen as my main plate. As I chew, I notice it’s soft, chewy, and plays a trick on my perception of temperature because of how it’s layered. The pita is warm, as well as the meat in the middle. The contrast is in the vegetables, as they’re cold and smothered with tzatziki sauce. This contrast makes each bite different from the last, as the temperature of the sandwich is trying to find an equilibrium. This is one of the few meals I’ve had in recent times where not only did I finish my plate at the restaurant, but I couldn’t think of a single piece of criticism. It’s a remarkable dish at $8.35.
From Santorini to Turkey, Kebab Cafe captures the essence of the Mediterranean, but condenses it into a small cafe where customers can feel at home. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., or Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., Kebab Cafe is cooking up food six days a week.