With its takeout counter, ultra-casual dining area, and posters of Turkish meat entrees, Chicken Kabob in Stoughton may not look like much, but lunch or dinner here is bound to be memorable. This is Mediterranean comfort food, rustic with personality.
The restaurant’s name may lead you to expect only charred meats on sticks, but in addition to kebabs, the dishes range from a beautifully prepared whole fish to tender lentil cakes.
The lentil kofte ($4), served at room temperature, was herby and lemony and flavored with tomato paste. Grape leaves ($5) were stuffed with rice and pignoli nuts, the wrappers a little briny and the filling creamy. Both make great light starters and are good options for vegetarians.
Moussaka ($13) was far more substantial and hearty. The dish of eggplant, sautéed bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and ground lamb topped with melted cheese is rich and indulgent, the kind of food you crave on a cold day. It comes with a side of braised cabbage, as well as the rice and bulgur pilaf that seem to accompany most entrees.
The rice is moist and good, but it was the bulgur pilaf I kept eating. Made with Turkish tomato paste and pepper paste, its appearance and flavor are reminiscent of Spanish rice.
A whole grilled brook trout ($17) — served on a bed of rice, bulgur pilaf, and grilled peppers — was perhaps the best thing my friend and I tasted here. Owner Ali Aykurt said it’s made with lemon, butter, and what he calls his special sauce.
The flavors were delicate and subtle, the flesh tender. I might have helped myself to some crispy skin, but unfortunately the fish was not fully scaled, and the skin looked bristly. Still, it was very fresh, which we got to see when the waiter presented us with the trout, salmon, and branzino purchased that morning as we pondered what to order.
A good way to sample the various styles of kebabs from Turkey is to order the mixed grill ($18). There’s doner lamb, which is roasted on a vertical spit and then shaved off in thin strips, the exterior a bit crispy. I preferred the lamb shish kebab, which was nicely cooked rare in the middle and tasted like steak.
The chicken kebab, marinated chunks of breast; chicken adana kebab, grilled ground chicken flavored with hot peppers and paprika; and grilled kofte, or lamb meatballs, were juicy and flavorful. The big platter comes with grilled tomatoes and peppers, and rice and the bulgur pilaf. It’s big enough to feed at least two.
Don’t skip the sweet side of Turkish cuisine. The pistachio baklava (three for $4) is wetter than the Greek kind I’m used to, and the thin phyllo layers are soaked through with syrup. In spite of that, it’s not overly sweet, and was utterly delicious.
I waited until the next day to try the kadayif ($4), baked shredded wheat garnished with crushed pistachio. By then the melted butter and syrup had made it a little soggy, but a short stint in the oven revived some of the crispness. The pastry nest reminded me of thin noodles in taste and texture, and it was good but not as sublime as the baklava.
Sekerpare (three for $4), a soft cookie made of semolina, was simple but lovely. The cookie is just the slightest bit grainy, a bit wet with sweet syrup, and topped with a nut.
The restaurant also offers Turkish drinks. A can of apricot nectar (75 cents) is predictably sweet and pleasant. There’s also the popular Turkish beverage ayran ($2 a bottle), made of yogurt, water, and salt and similar to an Indian salty lassi. It’s not my cup of tea, however.
Service was prompt and polite, and our friendly waiter answered all our questions and made recommendations.
Aykurt, who moved to the United States from Istanbul 22 years ago, said he has been cooking “all my life.” He previously owned restaurants on Long Island in New York, and opened the 24-seat location in Stoughton in January.
Chicken Kabob’s menu spans all of Turkey, Aykurt said, and kebabs are mostly eaten in the South. In his native town, fish was more prevalent.
Aykurt works seven days a week, and shops for fresh ingredients each morning. He learned to cook from his uncle, who was also a chef, but he has long made the recipes his own. He cooks and bakes everything at the restaurant, including the bread and desserts.
“I don’t buy anything, I make everything homemade,” he said.Shirley Goh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at http://whataboutsecondbreakfast.blogspot.com/.