A location made for doner
By Justin Rude
Friday, November 2, 2012
Berlin-style doner kebab, a dish with Turkish origins that is a wildly popular street food in the German capital, will look familiar to anyone who has enjoyed shawarma or a gyro.
A cone of meat, usually beef in the case of German doner, is cooked on a vertical spit, sliced and served in pita with toppings that include coleslaw, onions and tzatziki. Despite its accessibility and European ubiquity, the dish is far from popular stateside.
Enter Timo Winkel. During a trip to the States from his native Germany nearly a decade ago, he was shocked to discover America’s doner deficiency.
By 2006, Winkel had opened his first doner truck in Leesburg, and in 2008 he debuted Doner Bistro on Harrison Street in the iconic Mighty Midget Kitchen. Expansion always has been a part of Winkel’s plan. Early last month he took a bold step toward that goal when he opened the second location of his German street food restaurant in Adams Morgan in the old Shawarma King spot.
The search took almost a year, but when the space became available, Winkel knew he had found the perfect spot. “The build-out was already 90 percent what we would have done,” he said. “The work we did was more just about renovating the look and putting our branding on it.”
Outside the kitchen, where the vertical spits remain intact, the space has been transformed. The new look includes rich earth tones, a huge chalkboard menu, a foosball table and a mini beer-garden-style patio seating section.
If you are familiar with the menu at the Leesburg location, you’ll find no surprises here. It has been replicated exactly, prices and all. That means $7.45 for the traditional doner sandwich or $6.95 for a box of the slices of seasoned meat served over french fries and topped with tzatziki sauce. You can get your doner made with beef or chicken. Neither choice is bad, but I lean toward the red meat.
The cones are prepared in-house, and the moist and flavorful shaved meat makes for perfect late-night fare. Winkel explains that that is a big part of the appeal.
“In Germany, wherever you find bar districts,” he says, “that’s where the doner shops are. What Jumbo Slice is in Washington, that’s what doner is in Europe.”
Doner deserves more credit than that.
The falafel ($6.95) doesn’t score as high because the rather bland chickpea patties get lost in their pita. The bratwurst ($5.45), snappy and satisfying, is served Northern style, with mustard in a sauerkraut-free environment, as the menu puts it. There is nothing nuanced about the very sweet, somewhat spicy currywurst ($5.95-$6.95), which is sliced beef or pork sausage drenched in curry ketchup. But like much of the menu, it makes perfect sense alongside a stein of Warsteiner Pilsener.
Speaking of Warsteiner, the German favorite is one of three beers on draft at the restaurant, along with 41 bottled German brews. Revelers can enjoy half a liter of Bitburger for $2.50 at happy hour. For serious German beer fans, plastic masskrugs, those iconic, dimpled mugs you see at Oktoberfest, can be bought for $9.95. Bring your liter mug whenever you come back and fill it for $9.95, a price Winkel says will save you about 42 percent each fill. It’s like mug night with an accent.