Sept. 8: This post has been updated with our thoughts about the food after grabbing lunch there.
Does Washington need another fast-casual restaurant?
A trio of young entrepreneurs thinks so.
Today Tamim Shoja, 26, Masoud Shoja, 30, and Hemad Khwaja, 28, will open SKWR Kabobline near McPherson Square, adding kebabs* to the scene of local quick-service restaurants with create-your-own dishes that already includes such foods as burritos, noodle bowls and pizza.
* Post style, not a typo.
"It is a familiar model," Tamim Shoja said, "but everyone takes the model and does something different with it."
SKWR's something different centers around its 7-foot American Range grill. The appliance's built-in rotisserie feature means the metal kebab skewers -- swords, practically -- will turn automatically, leading to more even cooking. The grill runs on gas, but steel plates over the burners help funnel away drippings while also directing smoke and flames back toward the meat for charred flavor, Tamim Shoja said.
The endless summer smell of flame-kissed meat — ground sirloin, chicken, beef and lamb — is the first thing you notice when you walk into SKWR. (For vegetarians, there’s a baked white bean falafel.) Smoke rises from the grill in the open kitchen, adding a hazy filter to the bustle in the kitchen and the ordering queue.
Before you choose your protein, you have to decide whether to put it in a wrap or bowl. The brown rice under our tender, spiced lamb was cooked to enviable individual-grain quality with nary a hint of gumminess.
The rest of the assembly line features a wide array of embellishments. Each bowl or wrap comes with up to three spreads, including hummus, eggplant and a very intriguing olivieh, a riff on the potato salad popular in Russia and the Middle East. Toppings lean heavily on pickled vegetables. Sauces include such options as a za’atar yogurt aioli, charred chutney (“hot as hell,” its creator says) and pesto pesté, a pistachio pesto Tamim Shoja is especially proud of.
Ask for all the toppings, as we did, and the staff won’t look at you askance. More is more, right? Of course, our lunch ended up looking like a sloppy, albeit colorful, mess. Still, the resulting mix of contrasting flavors and textures made every bite a little different and rather like a treasure hunt. We found nothing wanting, but of the garnishes we were able to single out, we particularly enjoyed the sweet and spicy apple chutney, and pickled chickpeas, an Afghan specialty with a bright acidic kick that held its own against the aioli and pesto.
If you have any room after scarfing your generously sized main course, you can grab a dessert from Kensington-based bakery Baklava Couture.
Tamim Shoja said he's been in recipe development for SKWR for about two years. He and his co-founders' Afghan heritage has helped shaped the cuisine, but he said he's taken a global approach to the menu. (Both he and his cousin Masoud have experience working in their parents' restaurants, Dulles Kabob and Reston Kabob, the latter of which recently closed.)
Kebabs are "from everywhere," he said. "There's a million ways to do them."
SKWR, 1400 K St. NW, opening today. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.