Beef Shawarma

Beef Shawarma with grape leaves and hummus at the House of Kabob in New Britain. (Carole Goldberg / July 5, 2012)

House of Kabob Mediterranean Cuisine

1525 Stanley St., New Britain

860-223-1200 and http://www.connecticuthouseofkabob.com

There are many restaurants near college campuses that become favorites because they offer well-made, large and low-priced servings of ethnic foods to students on a budget. But as a friend and I recently discovered, you don't have to attend Central Connecticut State University to appreciate House of Kabob, which is located nearby.

THE VIBE: House of Kabob is more like a small luncheonette than a full restaurant: just a few tables with a deli-like counter and a refrigerated case of beverages. It shares space with The House of Kabob Hookah Lounge, a pillow-filled, curtained side room with Oriental carpeting and hookah pipes with which to smoke flavored herbal "sheesha," which is tobacco and nicotine-free. But we were there to eat, not to smoke.

THE FOOD: The Mediterranean food at House of Kabob is halal, which means it is permissible to eat according to Islamic dietary laws. There are Middle Eastern, Greek and American dishes on the menu, which offers sandwiches, burgers, platters, salads, pastries, sodas, tea and water.

We ordered two platters, each of which came with two side dishes and pita bread. Mine was the Kefta Kabob, billed as grilled ground beef rolls with tomato and onion, and I chose sides of felafel (fried patties of mashed chickpeas) and the baba ghanoush (baked eggplant pureed with the sesame seed and olive oil paste called tahini, lemon juice and garlic.

My friend, who has led me on many adventurous-eating expeditions, had the Beef Shawarma platter, which offers a generous portion of shredded — more like shaved — grilled meat with a tahini sauce. She chose side orders of hummus (chickpeas mashed with tahini, lemon juice and garlic) and chilled grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice.

Our orders were ample and very tasty, but mine was a bit of a surprise: the Kefta Kabobs on my plate were not made of seasoned ground beef, but were instead tender, well-marinated grilled slices of beef, and the tomato and onion mentioned on the menu were not served. I might have complained, but the beef was so good and the side dishes so satisfying that I just ate what was on my plate and was happy to do so.

My side dishes also were nicely done. The hummus was light and tangy; the baba ghanoush was delicately silky and sweeter than the hummus, although they are made with similar sauces. The falafel patties had a crunchy exterior and soft interior and were mildly spiced. It's worth noting that they tasted as though the oil used for frying was very fresh — not always the case with felafel. The stuffed grape leaves were tender little bites, filled with a pleasing rice mixture.

As good as the beef was, we could have had just as enjoyable a meal from a platter of the veggie side orders, which is in fact one of the choices.

Also available are sandwiches, which come with lettuce, tomato, onion and garlic sauce. They include beef or chicken-and-beef gyros on your choice of pita bread or grinder roll, BBQ chicken breast, falafel, kabob and shawarma combos and two more complex offerings: the Melting Pot (chicken shawarma or kabob with raisins and shredded red cabbage in a sweet sauce) and the Sorrento (grilled chicken breast, roasted peppers, onion and sun-dried tomatoes with a basil and herb sauce.

The platters feature chicken, beef or ground beef, falafel or vegetarian dishes, all with two sides. Small salads can be added for $1.99.

Burgers — regular, cheeseburger, "monster" burger and Philly cheese — come with fries.

Salads can be all-veggie or mixed with feta cheese or grilled chicken, in various combinations.

Drinks include Snapple, Laziza or mango juices, canned sodas or hot tea. Fresh pastries also are available.

THE BILL: The dishes here really are bargain bites. Side orders, including rice or French fries, are $1.99 to $3.50. Sandwiches are $5.50 to $7.50; most platters are $7.99 (chicken and beef shawarma is $8.45 and the meat lover's kabob platter is $9.99). Burgers are $5.50 to $6.75, salads are $2.99 to $6.99 and drinks and desserts are $1 to $1.99.

THE PARTICULARS: House of Kabob is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

THE VERDICT: House of Kabob is an out-of-the-way spot serving interesting ethnic food that is light on your palate as well as on your pocketbook.