Back when we were kids, Dad would grill shish kebabs. I liked them a lot, and I liked saying “shish-k’bob,” although I couldn’t quite understand why the chunks of beef came stabbed with a long, pointy metal prong. Sword fights after? No! — you can put an eye out with those things!
We had no idea that roasting meat on a stick or skewer dated back to when early humans began cooking with fire, or that the word “kebab” was first used as a reference for food in a Turkish script from 1377. No, the four Snider kids were too busy making sure we each got our share because we knew that our next dinner might be fish sticks.
Will one of these places get skewered?
BAYSHORE MEDITERRANEAN GRILL
Stormy Monday. We arrived at the restaurant, located in a tidy strip center in the Ballast Point neighborhood of South Tampa, at 6 p.m., dark clouds bruising the sky, but the nasty weather still in offing.
Despite its generic name, Bayshore Mediterranean Grill is a proudly Turkish eatery. The simple interior has a group of nicely spaced two-tops and four-tops. We grabbed a spot next to the window. Turkish music played faintly on the sound system, making conversation easy. Our server, Rania, greeted us enthusiastically and made menu suggestions.
BMG is big on kebabs. There are — I kid you not — 30 different ones on the menu. We played it safe and went with the Chicken Shish Kebab ($19.99). Also: Mixed Cold Appetizers (small, $16.99), Lavas Bread ($4.99),and, for me, a Turkish gazoz soft drink, mixed fruit flavor ($2.50). We figured it would be enough food for us to split.
For an no-frills restaurant, this place turned out some very attractive dishes. Lots of color, which tends to happen when, y’know, vegetables are included.
Let me start with something that had no color at all. When Rania poured the gazoz into the glass, it came out clear. Imagine that: a fruit-flavored soft drink without fake fruit coloring.
The appetizer sampler (photo above) was artful and salivation-worthy. The lavas bread arrived puffed up, then deflated into a roundish beast, covered with sesame seeds. Finally, the kebab (photo below) — 10 hefty chunks of chicken, skewers removed (thank you) covering portions of white rice and bulgur, along with a scoop of red cabbage and a small salad. All of it elegantly arranged.
Texture and Taste
Let’s do this chronologically:
The clear, bubbly gazoz, not too fruity, had a crisp lightness that set the tone and proved a refreshing complement to the food.
We aggressively tore off pieces of the lavas, at once tender and chewy, and dipped them into the quartet of spreads. While each was first-rate, we agreed that the babaganoush (vaguely smokey) and the eggplant-based soslu patlican (sweetish) stood out.
Onto the main event. The cubes of chicken were appropriately succulent, although a bit light on seasoning. I salted them. The bird worked best when joined on the fork by its neighbors — especially the cabbage, which I could’ve used more of. I stole some pickles from the app platter and they turned out to be valuable role players, their bold dill flavor adding zip to the chicken.
It was definitely enough food for us to split. Nothing was overly rich or heavy, and I left full but not stuffed.
The storm kicked in on our way back to St. Pete. Lightning hit a power pole and sent sparks flying earthward. After-dinner fireworks.
Breezy Wednesday. High clouds covered St. Pete’s Grand Central district, mitigating the early August heat.
When we entered Zaytoon’s small storefront at 6:10, it was readily apparent that this was a different caliber of restaurant than Bayshore Mediterranean Grill. Counter service, a few simple tables, napkin dispensers, a fridge with soft drinks, no alcohol served — all of it suggested a budget-friendly takeout place. (I’d never been here, and chose it based on the eatery’s consistently high rankings online.)
We ordered the Chicken Kabob Platter ($13.99, including a side order of three pieces of falafel) and the appetizer sampler platter ($10.99). Zaytoon (which means “olive” in Arabic) did not have gazoz soft drinks (sigh), so I opted for a can of Canada Dry ginger ale ($1.50). They didn’t have ice. I didn’t ask why.
The counter person suggested we sit at a four-top because our meal would take up considerable space. All of the food came out at once.
Given its quick-serve nature, Zaytoon understandably did not go out of its way to make its dishes look pretty. A trio of spreads (photo above) — hummus, babaganoush and foule — were separated into compartments on a white plate. Plain pita (no charge) and the falafel rested in cardboard containers.
The five hefty chunks of chicken — which sat atop a bed of yellow rice, flanked by grilled vegetables — were not even arrayed in a neat, kebab-like row. Tsk tsk. At least they’d been de-skewered.
Texture and Taste
The round mounds of falafel were exemplary — crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, with a deep, earthy flavor.
The spreads were notably different than those of the competition. The hummus and babaganoush were fine, if a bit nondescript. We did not care for the foule (“fool”), made from fava beans (The Silence of the Lambs still gives Bonnie the willies). The pita, doughy and cold, was disappointing.
The chicken kebabs had mild grilled flavor and we detected a hint of lemon, but the meat was on the dry side. The yellow basmati rice, which tasted of turmeric, had more character than the white rice and bulgur across the bay. Lightly grilled tomato, onion and pepper added crunch and flavor contrast.
And the Winner of the Kebab Contest of Epic (Pro)Portions Is …
Bayshore Mediterranean Grill.
It comes with asterisk*.
These restaurants were not well matched. There’s a reason welterweights don’t fight cruiserweights. I wholeheartedly recommend sitting down to a meal at BMG. I can also recommend Zaytoon for quick, healthy takeout — or eat-in. It’s a friendly place.