3145 Rosecrans Street, Midway District
“What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?”
Huh. I impress myself. I do remember something from high school English. John Keats, right? Miss Fussell. Teaching us about “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” We learned it just to please her because we were all in love with her, the boys. ’Specially as we knew her heart had just been broken by a dumb jerk who wouldn’t know his Keats from his keister.
What got me going on this? The six-foot, 3-D, white plaster frieze on the wall next to me. It has it all: maidens pouring wine for a bunch of flowing-robed philosophers as they lean against temple pillars exchanging deep Greek thoughts.
“Excuse me, sir.”
It’s Eva the waitress, come to pour me my drink.
’Course, not wine, but water, and she’s not dressed in flowing white robes. Nor am I. But it gets me thinking: ethnic places like this treat you more royally than your average diner does, and you pay pretty much the same prices. I mean, this place is Greek. And here I am, about to shell out all of six buckskins for my kobida kebab sandwich, and the table’s got a linen cloth and a forest-green paper mat. Plus heavy silverware and a fresh red carnation in a royal-blue glass vase. Somebody’s really trying here.
I stopped by this part of town for Carla. Book-shopping. She wants Charting the End Times. Tim Hayes, the Left Behind guy. I swear — she sort of half believes this gobbledygook. But, hey, what do I know?
So, I got off the 35 bus and was heading into the old Loma movie theater that’s now a Bookstar when I noticed this newish-looking Greek place. There’s a triangular patio outside, filled with a bunch of cool guys and gals. “Country Kabob #2,” the sign said. Hmm… Wonder what happened to #1? Had to go in, of course. Quick snack. And, whoa, all those friezes. And blue and yellow on the walls and cool glass-disc lights hanging over the dozen tables and reddish movie-theater seats where you wait to be seated.
But I just go and sit down near a bunch of social workers talking about their cases as Eva brings over plates for them to share. A gyros plate, with soup and pita bread. I check the menu: $9.45. A salmon salad. The charbroiled fish looks great on top of the greens ($8.45). And I see a bunch of ground-beef kebabs sprouting from a giant pita. That looks good.
Can that be one of the Greek sandwiches? The menu lists seven, at $5.95 each. (Eva says they cost the same at dinnertime, which is great.) They include the beef kebab, the lamb kebab, the gyros combo of beef and lamb, the chicken-breast kebab, falafel (chickpea patties), fish — salmon — or the kobida kebab.
“Which sandwich is the most delicious?” I ask Eva.
She doesn’t hesitate. “Number 36, the kobida kebab. It’s charbroiled.”
I’m sure it’s not the only charbroiled one, but sounds good to me. And when it comes, I can’t believe how much I get. Three big ground-beef tubes of meat that’ve been hauled off skewers, piled onto a whopping circle of pita bread partly folded into a paper bag. There’s raw red onion, tomato, parsley, and tzatziki sauce. Whatever the marinade on the meat was, it worked.
I’m chomping away when the chef comes out, still wearing his flopped-over chef’s hat, to check on the patrons. Oh, wow. I recognize that face.
“I used to own the Gyroscope, in the Gaslamp,” he says. “Our lease ended.”
Karim. I remember now.
“You’re from Afghanistan, right?” I ask.
He nods. “I arrived in New York in 1981 with $50. Political asylum. I started working in a Greek restaurant. Afghan and Greek cooking are absolutely different, but I learned. Then the old couple who owned the restaurant decided to return to Greece. So I bought it from them. That’s how I became a Greek chef!”
Now he and his family have four Greek restaurants, including Country Kabob #1 on Adams Avenue. He says that during these hard times, he has started an occasional program of “Pay what you can,” where people can eat a full meal, and even if they pay only $1, that’s okay.
“This country has helped me too much. I have a house, a car. I want to give something back.”
I order a dish to take home to Carla. The lamb-kebab plate, #3. It costs $10.45 but bulges with chunks of lamb, yellow rice, brown rice, pita bread, Greek salad, feta, olives…I know it’s going to be big enough for the two of us tonight.
So now, off to Bookstar. Hey. Idea. Instead of that End Times book, I might get her John Keats. Then, who knows? “What wild ecstasy?…”
The Place: Country Kabob #2, 3145 Rosecrans Street, Suite A (next to Bookstar in the old Loma theater), 619-226-2524
Type of Food: Greek
Prices: Greek sandwiches, including beef kebab, lamb kebab, gyros (beef/lamb), chicken-breast kebab, falafel, kobida (ground beef), salmon, $5.95 (lunch and dinner); gyros plate (with soup, pita bread), $9.45; salmon salad, $8.45; symposium (sampler platter for two), $22.45 ($21.45 for the vegetarian version); hummus/baba ghanoush combo plate, $9.45 (lunch prices; add about $3 for dinner prices)
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., daily (till 10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday)
Bus: 28, 35
Nearest Bus Stop: Rosecrans at North Evergreen (28, better choice); Midway and Rosecrans (35 n.b., two blocks away, southbound only; northbound even farther away)