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Review: Kebab 

Sarah Baird finds fine European street food at a St. Claude restaurant/gallery

click to enlarge Kebab bakes its own bread and cooks 
meat on spits.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Kebab bakes its own bread and cooks meat on spits.

The notion of a restaurant offering "homegrown" options almost sounds passe as the farm-to-table movement has permeated the dining landscape, albeit with mixed results when it comes to authenticity and quality. What's still fresh, though, is when an entire restaurant feels homegrown — with familial atmosphere, community artwork and laid-back, locally sourced food that pulses with an inviting, joyful energy. Kebab is a welcome — and welcoming — addition to the growing St. Claude Avenue dining scene, with Turkish-inspired street food fare that impresses from lunchtime until the midnight hour.

  Often art in restaurants is not for sale, but Kebab divides its space into a dining area and a designated gallery space with works by local artists. The art is eclectic and loosely curated around a monthly theme, with sculpture, painting and sketches all beckoning to diners.

  Three sandwiches — a doner kebab, gyro and falafel — anchor the menu, and each is flavorful. The restaurant's namesake kebab is an upgraded version of the kind of late-night street food popular across Western Europe, with spit-roasted chicken thighs stacked with zippy pickles, cabbage, onion and generous dousings of pungent house-made mustard and aioli.

  The bread itself is a feat, and unlike any other in the city. It's baked in house and straddles the line between the welcome, toothy bite of pita and yeasty, dense texture of sourdough.

  Kebab proves that keeping something simple can lead to tremendous success, especially in the preparation of dishes that all too often are phoned in. If your favorite olives are the ones found swirling around the bottom of a martini glass, the restaurant's spread of marinated green and black olives will redefine your standard for the cocktail sidekicks. Juicy and plump olives with freshly plucked herbs and diced moons of garlic can easily transport a diner out of the Bywater and into a rustic Mediterranean picnic. While the restaurant remains BYOB (with a negligible corkage fee), an ever-rotating selection of seasonally appropriate sodas — from the back-of-the throat heat of a lemon grass-ginger concoction to a floral, delicate rose-lemon version — go well with the menu's bright flavors. If there was ever a point of inspiration for chucking the notion of a wine flight and instead creating a flight of sodas to drink alongside a meal, Kebab is it.

  The crunchy snap of the amber-hued Belgian fries reveals a fluffy, delicate interior, with a variety of sauces available for dipping, dunking and sopping up with hunks of leftover bread. If it's your first visit, ask for a dollop of each sauce on the side and work your way through the complex flavor profiles, including a lush, creamy garlic aioli and a house-made ketchup with noticeably sweet undertones of curry powder.

  A range of specials — usually including a supple, earthy lamb sandwich and a plump link of juicy sausage made in-house — is consistently rotating, and leave one hoping the items find a more permanent place on the menu. Kebab consistently draws in diners who leave sated but still hungering for more of this restaurant's eccentric, creative dishes.

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