Walk into Kabob International and your nose will know you are soon going to enjoy the flavors of the Middle East.
If you don't like garlic and other heady herbs and spices, choose another restaurant. But don't worry about a heavy hand at the helm. The foods we sampled were all well-seasoned, but not at all overwhelming.
Meats skewered on sticks and grilled are the obvious specialty of the modest establishment on Dexter Road just west of Germantown Parkway in Cordova, owned by Mansour Ashrafieh, who is from Azerbaijan, and his wife, Shahrzad, a trained cook from Iran.
But the menu also includes other regional specialties such as falafel, souvlaki, Greek salad and more types of gyros than I ever imagined existed, including two with barbecue sauce developed for the palates of the Mid-South.
The menu allows many ways to sample a variety of foods.
A good way to start is with an appetizer sampler plate. Two can share portions of a traditional chickpea hummus, along with tabouli salad, stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanoush, a mixture of cooked eggplant, tahini (sesame paste) and a little yogurt to hold it together.
The best way to eat the spreads is on triangles of warm pita and drizzled with the cucumber-yogurt relish tzatziki.
Olive oil is lightly lapped over the hummus and baba ghanoush so if you don't like that rich addition, ask to have it omitted.
The menu notes that all of the sauces and dips are made fresh daily with no preservatives.
The Ashrafiehs stuff the grape leaves with rice and vegetables, making them a favorite with their vegetarian customers.
The kabobs are served several ways; in a regular or large pita pocket, as a wrap or on a plate laid on a bed of rice.
To my mind, rice is always nice but not especially exciting. The basmati rice is exceptionally well prepared with each long grain separate, tender and redolent of the characteristic nutty aroma and flavor.
We chose a plate that included a duet of grilled Skokie beef and chicken. The Skokie beef features seasoned ground cuts of tender beef lightly drizzled with a tasty Persian mustard sauce.
The same sauce enhances grilled pieces of white chicken. Anyone who cooks knows how easy it is to go from moist and tender pieces of chicken breast to dry and hard nuggets with a minute or two more cooking than is necessary.
Happily, Kabob International's are just right.
Our second entree was Euro Gyro, which can be ordered as beef, chicken or lamb. Our order had tasty strips of lamb sliced about an inch wide and 10 inches long and served on rice. With this dish the tzatziki sauce had feta cheese crumbled into it.
You won't be able to enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine with these foods. As is the case in many Middle Eastern restaurants, no alcohol is served. Because everything is prepared to order, don't expect a fast-food experience. It's worth the short wait.
The couple bake three types of baklava: the traditional one with walnut and honey filling as well as a version with pistachios and another with the South's favorite nuts, pecans.
The pistachio version was interesting but the one with pecans won my heart -- I'm not typically a baklava lover. It has a sweet but not cloying filling of ground pecans wrapped in crisp filo dough.
With the restaurant's aromatic hot tea with a mat that looks like an oriental rug, it is the perfect way to end the meal.
Address: 8050 Dexter, No. 105
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Not available
Don't miss: Chicken kabob, basmati rice, tzatziki, pecan baklava
Web site with menu: Gotkabob.com