Jaffar Helie, owner of the popular but low-frills Roma's and Waterloo pizza restaurants in Howard County, has now opened Cazbar Kebap House, a small restaurant selling Turkish food. Its menu is modeled on a similarly themed restaurant in Baltimore, also called Cazbar, which is owned by a friend. If the two have their way, you'll see more Cazbar restaurants soon, Helie said.
The Cazbar in Columbia occupies a prime location, practically across the street from Howard Community College, but it's hard to spot if you're driving by and don't know to look for it. When we visited, the restaurant had been open about six weeks. It didn't have a proper sign yet, but it had already been discovered. That's good news for a restaurant — and cuisine — that deserves attention, but bad news for customers dealing with new-restaurant delays.
Customers order at the counter and can take their food to go or sit at one of the restaurant's few tables. While Helie and his young staff were working to fill a large takeout order, several customers waited for their food or to place orders at the counter.
Better organization would have eased the waits, but nobody seemed to mind. The growing-pains problem will likely be resolved quickly, if the efficiency at Helie's local pizza restaurants is any indication.
Helie is Iranian and said he has lived in Istanbul. His menu includes fare such as doner and kebap, which might sound unfamiliar, but they taste familiar. Doner is simply a Turkish version of meat slow-roasted on a spit. Kebap, as you may have guessed, is like a kebab.
Those tender meats are the building blocks of a menu of sandwiches, platters, falafel and traditional Middle Eastern spreads like hummus and baba ghanoush. Calzone-like partly folded pizzas called pides are cooked in a brick-lined oven to create a mottled brown crust.
Some dishes truly shine, such as the beef kebap sandwich, with truly tender, flavorful cubes of marinated filet mignon, wrapped in a warm pita and topped with lettuce, tomato and a cool, fresh-tasting yogurt sauce. A similar dish, but with yogurt-marinated chicken, was less interesting.
We liked the hummus, which was dotted with chickpeas and topped with olives, and the baba ghanoush, which was nicely silky and garlicky but mild. Both were served with warm, puffy pita bread, called lavash on the menu.
Falafel patties were flavorful but on the dry side. And a dish called havue salatasi, a sort of salad of shredded carrots and zucchini with a thick yogurt sauce, was rich instead of refreshing. Another appetizer, sigara borek, was also heavier than we wanted. It turned out to be thin rolls of phyllo, stuffed with feta and parsley and then deep-fried, but the overwhelming flavor was of the deep-fried dough, not the filling.
Around this time, we were wishing we had ordered more greens. Our remorse was not eased by the customer at the next table, who was tucking into a gorgeous-looking salad topped with beef kebap and ringed by stuffed grape leaves.
In addition to the usual sodas, Cazbar carries bottles of peach nectar and fruit-flavored soft drinks. Normally, baklava and another ultra-sweet phyllo dessert called kadayif are offered, but both were sold out during our visit.
Helie says he will probably add some of the more popular Cazbar dishes to the menus at his pizza restaurants. Sounds good to me.
Cazbar Kebap House
Where: 10840 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia
Hours: Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]