When I pulled up in front of The Kebabery on Market at 42nd Street in Oakland, there were no signs of life behind the wide garage-door storefront. And then, like magic, the door rolled up at 5pm to reveal the cheery, light-bathed kitchen staffed with folks prepping for the night.
Russell Moore, one of the most celebrated chefs on the east side of the bay (Camino, Chez Panisse) has just opened this pretty shop with his partner and wife Allison Hopelain and new collaborator Brian Crookes, in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood. Moore is best known for his open-fire grilling at Camino, and The Kebabery amplifies that theme with a small menu of kebabs: currently, lamb, chicken, and trumpet mushrooms; which you can order on skewers or in a sandwich of homemade flatbread.
Before you complain about the prices, which Yelpers are already doing in force just two weeks in, go to consider that everything on the menu is organic. If that matters to you, and perhaps you even try to shop organic, then the price bump makes sense. And beyond being organic, this compact menu proudly highlights the (mostly) local purveyors featured in every dish, including farms Tomatero and Mariquita in Watsonville, Straus Creamery in Petaluma, Giusto’s (for flour, also in Petaluma), and Napa Whole Spice in Napa, for the seasonings that go into the marinades and rubs. In my estimation, the quality is evident in the flavor-saturated, intensely focused food. So, $15 for a kebab, two salads, and homemade flatbread, including tip, isn’t as outrageous as it sounds, at least not in these parts.
The less transparent part of the pricing structure involves the no-tipping policy. Many Bay Area restaurants have jumped on the trend of adding a service charge to the bill to boost the pay-grade of woefully under-valued restaurant staff. But this is the first restaurant I’ve encountered that doesn’t state that percentage on the bill. Rather, the flat price simply includes a tip. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the local scene; I think most people want to see a breakdown of what they’re paying, especially at a counter-service place such as The Kebabery. But the public will, no doubt, weigh in on this.
Now about the food, which is the reason to go. There are three kebab options: ground lamb mixed with herbs, marinated chicken, and trumpet mushrooms rubbed in spices. You can choose to order one of the three on a plate (with two salads and flatbread or lentils) or as a sandwich (on flatbread with one salad). All are served with thick, whole-milk yogurt and fermented chile paste.
Two of us ordered almost everything on the menu. A lamb kebab plate with BN Ranch lamb from Bolinas was perfectly grilled to medium, ever-so-slightly pink, infused with herbs and spices, and served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut (lightly fermented) and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery. Instead of flatbread, we ordered the mashed red lentils, an earthy gluten-free starch that goes well with the spiced meats.
Another plate had the chicken kebab, in a marinade of turmeric and other spices, grilled skin-on and served with a raw carrot salad with caraway and mustard seeds, and mashed beets. The leavened flatbread, homemade with identity-preserved whole grain from Central Milling in Logan, Utah, is briefly grilled as well, chewy and hearty, but light in texture.