When Timo Winkel presented a business plan to the American Embassy in Frankfurt as part of his visa application, his appeal reached the right person. "The consul said that every time he goes back home, he misses the German doner," says Winkel, whose Doner Bistro in Leesburg began as a food truck in 2006.
Made from seasoned meat sliced from a rotisserie cone, doner kebab is piled inside a flatbread pocket with chopped salad and tzatziki sauce. The Middle Eastern staple was brought to Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish entrepreneur in Berlin, Winkel says, to compete with the bratwurst that Germans liked to eat on the go. These days, the shawarma-like sandwich is as ubiquitous in Germany as the hamburger is in the United States.
In 2008, Winkel, 30, and his (now) wife and business partner, Nicole, acquired the Mighty Midget Kitchen, a riveted aluminum structure the size of an ice-fishing shack, built by a California company in 1946 from leftover fighter plane parts. The shiny shack had served as a hamburger and hot dog stand in Leesburg until 1994. The couple refurbished the kitchen and moved it to the deck of a building across from the town's Market Station complex. There's a counter indoors for ordering (including a selection of 20 German beers), but most of the action takes place on the deck, which Winkel calls the beer garden and which has seating for 50.
The prep work is done in a kitchen elsewhere, but the simple menu items are cooked and assembled in the 6-by-8-foot Mighty Midget. There's the doner, of course ($7.45), in a crispy bread pocket, grilled panino-style. The Belgian-style hand-cut fries are sprinkled with "pomme salt," a paprika-tinted seasoning; they can be stuffed into the doner box ($6.95) with shaved meat and tzatziki, or slathered with curry-flavored ketchup alongside beef or pork sausage on the currywurst plate ($5.95, plus $1.95 for fries).
There's also falafel ($6.95), bratwurst ($5.45) and veal schnitzel ($7.45), all served sandwich- style or on a plate with fries ($1.50). Although many of the menu items might not seem a great departure from the fare at your local Turkish carryout, Winkel swears by their particular authenticity. The meat and tzatziki are seasoned the German way: milder, though more garlicky. And currywurst is so common in his home country that a museum honoring the dish opened in Berlin two years ago.
The Winkels hope to open a location in Arlington this year, but they won't be able to replicate the Mighty Midget. "That's one of a kind," Winkel says.
--Martha Thomas (Good to Go, March 30, 2011)