Even when traffic is light, long stretches of Reisterstown Road are often visually busy. Traveling at 35 mph or so, it can be hard to pick out the sign you seek among the competitors.
Silk Road Bistro sits well back from the curb in a demure little building set up for two occupants. It's nearest neighbors are small shops of the hair salon, tax preparer and 7-Eleven variety. If you miss the turn into the parking lot, you might opt to keep on driving rather than maneuver through traffic to find your way back, especially if you notice the parking lot is full.
12:04 p.m. Inside, the dining room is open, one room. Nicely spaced tables form neat rows. Glass tops cover colorful tablecloths. Rather than paintings or tapestries, the walls are decorated with large swatches of mud and straw — the stuff of ancient brickmaking — and framed by 3-inch-thick tree trunks split lengthwise. It's an arresting effect that warms an otherwise fairly plain room.
12:13 p.m. Our server delivers a hot tea, light and botanical, that works well with all the dishes and can easily stand by itself during the afternoon sip. Silk Road is a BYOB establishment, and a couple of nearby tables take advantage of that during this lunch hour. Silk Road also offers soft drinks, a fruit punch, coffees and ayran, a yogurt beverage.
We order what we expect to be a series of small-plate dishes: a lamb and a beef kebab at $3.45 each and chicken kebab at $2.45. We tacked on manti ($5.95), four steamed dumplings filled with either meat, potatoes or pumpkin. Two tandoori samsas are $1.95 apiece. And the one big-ticket item: jiz biz — fried lamb and french fries ($11.95). The name makes it irresistible.
12:21 p.m. If you're familiar with samosas and empanadas, Silk Road's samsas give you another look at stuffed pastries. And if Hot Pockets are your thing, you're in for a whole new ride. Silk Road's samsas are, however, larger than their cousins, about the size of a hamburger bun, domed, flaky outside, softer inside. Tucked inside are tiny meat balls bathed in gravy. Add Silk Road's mild red pepper sauce, and you've got yet another addictive comfort food.
12:30 p.m. The meat that fills the samsas does another good turn in the dumplings. Larger than their East Asian counterparts, you can get them steamed or fried. Ours are steamed and served with sour yogurt, yet another treat. A couple of these and a samsa would make a fine, filling lunch, And did.
12:40 p.m. The jiz biz and lamb kebab arrive. Traditionally, jiz biz is made of sheep organs. (The menu here mentions only "fried lamb.") It's sometimes served with potatoes. Silk Road covers a dinner plate with a mound of french fries that look and taste hand-cut. On top of that, they add about half a red onion sliced thin as angel hair, a veggie accent on a dish that pays homage to carbs and protein.
The kitchen does know how to grill meat, and it does not do small. We guess each skewer holds around 8 ounces of meat. They're also served with the pepper sauce and a light pomegranate syrup that is nice, but the grilled meats are so good on their own, we eschew both condiments.
12:51 p.m. In the end, the message is clear: Bring either your appetite or common sense. Prices here reveal neither portion size nor quality. Prices are roughly $4.45 to $11.95, but that presumes few would be satisfied with a single kebab skewer; otherwise, it's $2.45 and up. The vast majority of menu items, from soups and salads through to deserts, are under $6 and can rightly be considered good deals.
12:56 p.m. We check out with chicken and beef kebabs wrapped up. Silk Road has a curious vibe. It's not a neighborhood hangout. It clearly caters to and is a gathering place for diners with ties to Uzbekistan: captioning for most of the ads flashing on the TV screen above the counter are in Cyrillic script. At first it seemed uninviting, but our server changed that with his first visit and it got better from there. But it was definitely the kitchen that won us over. East meets Mediterranean at Silk Road, and diners get good things from both ends of the route.
Silk Road Bistro
Where: 607 Reisterstown Road
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Lunch entrées: $4.45-$11.95
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]