I don’t know much about the Turkish culture, but wanted to find out what made these donairs different from all the others. Today we were at “Turkish Donair” for a quick bite, the only shoppe serving donairs in this area of North Burnaby. My partner has been before and decided it would be as adequate of a place as any other to have lunch at.
I try not to judge a book by its cover or a restaurant by its exterior, but it is hard not to when the place looks run down. The awning was caked with grime. What was once a black covering with yellow font was now stained a mossy green mess. Though considering that this didn’t deter anyone else from entering, why should it me? I would soon find out.
The front window and sandwich board helped to convey everything they offered in clear photos and precise words. Pitas wrapping either Halal meats or the vegetarian falafel. “Halal” refers to any object or action that is permissible to use or engage in according to Islamic law. The term covers and designates not only food and drink but also all matters of daily Islamic life. “Falafel” is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. It is a traditional Middle Eastern food.
The restaurant held a narrow space. On one side the counter to order and prepare food behind, and across from it several mirrors mounted on the wall. The mirrors helped to give the room the illusion of depth and breath. The black counter was manned by the lone shop’s owner/only employee. It was decorated with spray painted vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, olives, cucumber, and rings of raw onions. What followed was a picture of a completed donair with all the ingredients above, tucked neatly in to a warm pita. Above it was a half empty chip rack and to its side a fully empty refrigerated display case. I don’t know if the barren fixtures were because it was Sunday in the early afternoon and they would be closing soon. But I do know it made it seem like the shoppe was going out of business. An empty display case dressed with clean dishes and tongs and cake trays with lids holding nothing but air. At least the can and bottled beverage fridge was well stocked. The above could also be probable because they use to sell more sides and snacks, but those sides and snacks were never very popular. So they ended up being more cost than profit to make; to have available, and to not sell. Therefore they were discontinued. Though if that was the case they should just clear it all out and make room for some more appropriate seating.
The less functional portion of the restaurant was a very ethnic attempt at interior decorating. I will not be able to call specific items by their names, but can none-the-less describe what I saw and how it all made me feel. Towards the back, a set of side tables and chairs stood. They differed from the ones used for dining closer to the door. The arrangement felt like it belonged in someone’s home. It seemed like the space was designated more for the owner’s friends to come and hang out in, then for actual restaurant seating. Side tables to rest drinks on and chairs with armrest for extended periods of sitting. Two small television sets sat in opposite corners. One was tuned to Arabic news, it offered the only noise in the otherwise quite restaurant. Artificial potted plants, assorted frames commemorating various photos, and antique looking clocks and wall pieces in wood and metal crowded the area. Most curious was the wall mounted wire wine rack, it carried a plastic bottle of Brisk ice tea instead of its intended glass bottle of wine. One table had a printed fabric laid over it, a leather piece decorated with a multitude if watercolour. We weren’t comfortable dining in this portion of the room and only considered the bar by the window or the two top tables across from the counter. The thought of hunching over and eating off of tables at knee height was not too appealing. Nor were we very comfortable with dripping juices on to the fabric table covering above.
You order from the three menus above the counter. The first menu divided the chicken, lamb, and beef donair options from one another. Essentially it was the same array of ingredients across the board, but you change up the protein in each. Six donair flavours influenced by four different cuisine types. The secondary menus offer the same flavours as a platter or as a combo. A deconstructed donair: meat over rice with a side of salad and pita. Or a fully filled and wrapped pita with a side of rice or salad. Essentially they increase their menu listing by offering the same ingredients in different applications. Clever, though at the same time less can be more for such a business. I recommend that they bring it down to one menu and simply do six dishes the best they can. Maybe then I would have actually enjoyed what I had.
Because there was only just the owner working the front counter, a few guests left, being put off by the minimal wait. It ended up being better for us as our position in line moved up. He was very friendly. With a smile on his face he informed us they were out of chicken. We were disappointed. How could that be? At 2pm, and with chicken being one of the most popular proteins. Though considering they were also out of toilet paper for the whole restaurant, I guess it wasn’t really that big of a surprise.
The difference between a large and a small donair was pretty obvious upon comparison. I had the small, as after describing what I saw I was not to optimistic about the food.
I chose the “Lebanese Beef”, deciding that it would be the most flavourful given its use of sauces and spreads like tabaulah, hommous, and tzatziki; along with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. The “Greek” with olive, feta, and tzatziki would have been my second choice. The wax bag wrapped and twisted at the bottom of the falafel was a food idea. Not only did it save my fingers from the inevitability of juice running down them, but it held the wrap together until I got to the bottom. The beef had a spongy texture and wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It would have been better with a shredded texture. It was definitely not fresh, but that was probably because it was reheated in the microwave. You could hear the beep to set it, the closing of the plastic door, and the ding-ing of the bell to indicate it was done. I immediately thought, isn’t the point of such places to have the meat cook on the spit, and for the fragrance to waft in the air and attract customers in? I guess they just weren’t busy enough or a large enough operation for fresh food made to order. In my wrap, I missed the hommous and didn’t get enough tzatziki for taste. At this point I could have used a dish of each for dipping in to. The creamy hommous paste, would have not only given things more flavour, but it would have made this wrap more filling. When eating it, I was missing that hearty substance feeling. A void the unripened slices of tomato and excessive amount of lettuce stem was unable to fill. There was a lot more lettuce than necessary, so much so that we ended up digging most out as we ate our way down.
My parter ordered the “Maritimer Beef”, not being able to have chicken. He liked the sweetness of the sauce included, but decided it was not complimentary to the spicy beef. Like my falafel above it too came with pale tomatoes and too much lettuce. He had passed on hot sauce, which was a mistake. It needed more flavour, another layer, another element to give it some kick. Crispy fried onions or a tangy slaw. Though both really wouldn’t be very Turkish. I would have been nice to have some tzatziki in this one too, a mix of sweet and tangy, it surely needed something else as it tasted incomplete.
When the crowd had filtered out and all orders had been made, the owner sat behind the bar to watch television. Something that isn’t too professional, but for a small shop like this I don’t mind. However he decided to turn the volume up to combat against the already loud buzzing of the refrigeration equipment. It made our conversations difficult, the need to talk over the voices coming from the television. That and we felt like we had to be quiet so that he could watch his tv in peace. This was definitely not the greatest of eating environments. However we were here to eat and go so tried to pay no mind.
As I made mention to earlier, my attempt to use the single stall washroom was foiled without the presence of toilet paper. I search through all the cupboards before asking, but he had indeed run out. Guess they don’t have many female patrons using their facilities or anyone using it at all. The owner had offered to run and get some, but I rather not have waited. The experience was mildly salvaged by his kind demeanour and friendly nature.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If I was just ranking service, this review would be different. Despite the intention for an easy grab and go snack, our meal was unsatisfying. I rather not return as I can find far better donairs else where. Or simply choose something else in the neighbourhood. Sadly I have had much better an will travel much farther for it before coming back here. I say “sadly” because the owner was so nice and he made up from the greviences above. I would consider coming back just to support him if it wasn’t for the pungent lingering taste I had in my mouth after I finished eating. I craved a palette cleanser all the way to the nearest gas station to use the washroom. Don’t deny your cravings.