This is the most franchise-able donair place I have ever seen. Located on the prominent corner of Granville and Smithe, it was eye catching, well lit, and brightly painted. Their logo, a white trimmed red stop sign with “DS” in its centre, was enough to have me stopping in my tracks. Here this Eastern Mediterranean specialty is repackaged in an North American style, for our Canadian palette. Ethnic fast food food with flare. A catchy name and a simple logo, that even had the Rudolph drawing in the window smiling. There was nothing ethnic specific about the place. Other donair shoppes use traditional names and authentic props to play up their exotic nature. No hookas and no tribal-like music, just a simple shop serving wraps and donairs, with the ever popular North American side of fries. There is even the possibility of making each donair a combo for $2.95 more. This includes a canned drink with your choice of either lentil soup or a bag of chips.
For those who don’t know, the “donair” is a Turkish dish made with meat cooked vertically on a rotisserie-like grill. The meat is often carved by knife into thin layers, right on the spit. They are also widely known by their Arabic name “shawarma”, or as the Greek “gyros”.
With the restaurant’s doors opened wide it looked inviting. The small line visible from across the intersection was enough of a reassurance that the place was good, but not long enough to deter those unwilling to wait. And if that and the delicious smells didn’t attract you in, the sandwich boards advertising free fries and the possibility of making your wrap or donair gluten free certainly had you taking a second look. The latter a relief for those with the specific dietary restrictions, as well as for those with growing health concerns.
The shop is small. Right by the door is a tiny seating area. A corner table by the window, and another two able to seat a larger group if pushed together. Given the practical cafeteria like seating: picnic tables with benches, this isn’t meant to be a sit and linger type of restaurant. You eat in and go or take out and go. I imagine their cuisine most popular amongst teens on a budget, and those out late after hard drinking and heavy dancing. This evening’s tables were filled with resting shoppers. Those who sat with their large bags and big purchases, seeking to save a little during dinner.
To the left, the wall is papered in red advertising their “authentic gourmet food”. Against it a cooler for canned soft drinks, a rice cooker, and shelves housing boxes and styrofoam for take out.
Right at the entrance you are greeted by the counter, you approach it to order. The menu is a list three panels wide. It requires the arching of your neck and a look up to take it all in. Donairs, wraps, rice plates, or salads and sides. Each offering includes your choice of protein or vegetarian substitute, and their suggested variations. All the meats are advertised as being organic. The donair is titled as being “Halifax style”. Researching on the term, I discovered that the donair scene is pretty big in Halifax, with many fans making it their own. I would soon see this here, with their line up of possible ingredients to accompany the traditional meat and bread dish. Donair flavours are either beef, chicken; or “falafel”, their vegetarian option. Wraps were mostly made with chicken, with the possibility of substituting in beef for the “buffalo chicken” flavour. The chicken wraps came in Caesar, tropical, chipotle, Thai chilli (spelled “chilly”, a purposeful type-o?) and buffalo. Rice plates offered the same meats as above or falafel instead. “Falafel” is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Your choice protein is served with rice, salad, pita, and your choice of sauce: tzatziki or hummus. Salad are available in Caesar, Greek, and Tabouli. “Tabouli” is a vegetarian salsa traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion. Then seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
Either of the it two men working side by side take your order. They prepare wraps one after another, alternating between guests. Efficient as one builds the wrap, the other chargers their customer. Past them you can see the traditional donair set up. Slabs of meat rotating on a spit backed by stainless steel. Here either chicken or beef is kept warm as they spin round and round. Using a knife the meat is carved as needed right into a pocket of dough. After committing to a donair you look down behind the glass. Down at the multiple metal trays filled to the brim with colourful and fresh ingredients. Most are on the healthier side, like the variety of raw and pickled vegetables.
I choose the beef donair over the chicken. I often find most fast food chicken is prepared too dry. And I also prefer dark meat, but more often get the commonly used and mostly preferred white breast meat. So I have learned not to gamble and stick with beef over chicken, beef that I know will be tasty. However I was given chicken by accident. A fact I didn’t clue into seeing the darker and heavily seasoned scraps of meat. A fact that was announced only when the donair was done and being extended to me. The server caught his mistake and was more than prepared to make me another. However I decided to accept it as is to not cause trouble and to not have to wait for another. Plus a lot of work goes into crafting one. To compensate for the mistake his coworker winked that he would give me extra fries instead. Completely unnecessary, but a nice touch none-the-less.
The assembly begins with a pita being split into two width wise, to form a pocket. The seasoned and shredded near goes in first. Everything else that follows is up to you. Think “Subway” but with a wrap. I took everything but the hot colourful jalapeño peppers. A grilled chicken donair with hummus, shredded lettuce, carrots and beets; red onion, tabouli, tomato wedges, cucumber slices, pineapple triangles, pickles, and tzatziki sauce. For sauces you choice is between regular mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, an herbed vinaigrette, chipotle mayo, garlic mayo, and hot sauce. I went with my usual favourite: Chipotle mayo. Cheese is unnecessary and extra for $1. Another very North American influence, like the condiments before. Either a shredded mozzarella and cheddar blend or feta. Feta was recommended and that’s what I went with. Once assembled the bundle is wrapped and pressed to keep its shape and toasted to give it warmth. It reminds me of a calzone or pizza pocket, but less stable.
This was one of the largest hand helds I have had for under $9. Packaged like a box, I lifted the top to see a well arranged and well stacked slew of ingredients. Colourful, fresh, and full of exciting flavours. As with most similar bread wrapped fresh fixings, there is a need to eat quickly. Taking your time results in the bread getting soggy and everything falling out the bottom. Mine started with purple beet dyed juice drippings, that was pretty for what it was. Then less than mid way through my donair broke in the middle. Half the meat fell out, and I found myself eating the rest with a spoon. Luckily I didn’t attempt to eat and walk, but waited to take out and sit down. Things got messy as I got in there with hands creamy and mouth gaping. Not one bite was boring as you got a different seasoning, another sauce, a new vegetable’s texture at each go. What I found most surprisingly enjoyable was the sweetness of the pineapple. It was a nice twist, a surprise pop of juice and sugar. I would have liked the onions chopped finer though. At one point I bit into a slice the size of a baby’s fist. That wasn’t a great bite. Overall no complaints. Delicious and filling I couldn’t take it all in one sitting, nor would I have been able to salvage any of it as leftovers. I finished belly full and hands lingering with the smell of donair. I needed a breath mint to cleanse my palate of the pickles, onion, cilantro, and tzatziki fighting for supremacy.
Any purchase of a wrap or donair earns you a free side of thick cut fries. It was a familiar plus, and as I mentioned earlier I got more than usual. The fries are deep fried to order, and if eaten in, served along side the wrap in a plastic basket. If taken out bagged in brown paper. These were proper English style chips according to my British colleague. They were toasty on the outside with a crispness to the skin; and melty and soft in the middle, almost like mashed potatoes. Good and salty, as they should be. I preferred them without ketchup.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
What I had was good, it is not something I would want often, but instead one of those specific cravings that could only be quelled with the perfect donair. As a believer of more the better and most is best, I was trilled to have over fourteen different ingredients available to me in this one meal. With all these options you can have your way, or be like me and get more bang for your buck by having it all. And for regular diners all the possible combinations would give you endless flavour pairings. I would line up for this because I know the wait wouldn’t be long. Donairs are a fast food option healthy and heartier than any chain, at the same cost. Don’t deny your cravings.
898 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2C9