Restaurateurs recreate the Mediterranean seaside
Spiced, marinated and roasted lamb or chicken, lovingly folded into warm pita rounds is the street food of choice around the Mediterranean. Middle Eastern shawarma is made with strips of prepared meats folded into a pita with lettuce, tomato and yogurt/cucumber sauce. A variation on the theme is the döner kebab, a pita sandwich stuffed with a combination of meats shaved from a rotating cone that roasts and marinates the product. It's a street-food hit in Turkey.
The Turkish version and the popular Greek gyro sandwich (pronounced, yeer-oh sand-witch) are quite similar, with only regional differences to distinguish them. Here in Rehoboth Beach, you can treat yourself to various regional versions, some with a Wilmington Avenue flair; others with a Rehoboth Avenue accent or some hailing from a seaside region known as The Boardwalk.
Semra and John Tekmen at Semra's, Kosta Tsoukalas at Robin Hood, the Svolis family at Gus & Gus' Place and Kevin Salamah at Sammy's Kitchen all dish up tasty gyro sandwiches in the shawarma tradition. Some use pre-prepared strips of meat and others slice it off of a rotating spit. In fact, the words "gyro" and "döner" are variations on the word "to turn" or "rotate." Imagine a standard rotisserie, but vertical, with the heating elements/fire in the back of the meat.
What sets these sandwiches apart is the yogurt/cucumber sauce. In Turkey, it's called cacik, but the Greek version is called tzatziki (pronounced zat-zeekee – please stop saying tah-ziki!). There are as many recipes for this cool and creamy dressing as there are smiling Greek and Middle Eastern restaurateurs. The base is Greek yogurt, though some may throw in a little sour cream. They'll probably add crushed garlic. Red wine vinegar? Maybe. Definitely cucumbers – chopped or pulsed in the processor, then drained with salt. A little lemon? Maybe some olive oil? Probably. Dill, mint or sumac? Maybe, maybe not. It all comes down to how grandma made it back in the Old Country.
At Semra's Mediterranean Grill, John and Semra have opted for the rotisserie version of gyro sandwiches. John has a second spit so he can offer the lamb/beef and the chicken versions at the same time. If you look very closely into Gus & Gus' Place on the Boardwalk, you'll see the same setup.
Of course Mediterranean food isn't all about Middle Eastern cuisine. If we look to the left toward Spain and Portugal, you'll get an idea of what's dished up over on Baltimore Avenue at Café Azafran. You know you're at the right place when a bowl of impossibly plump olives is waiting for you as you sit down.
Pick hits at Café Azafran include the veal sausage with cannellini beans; haricots verts (long, skinny green beans) cooked with blue cheese, butter and hazelnuts, and owner Rich Steele's own paella, prepared right before your very eyes on Sundays and Wednesdays for those lucky enough to get a seat. Reservations are a must.
Mediterranean-flavored places at the beach may be a little hard to find, but there's no shortage of fresh paella, Iberian small plates and savory meats slathered with tzatziki. And of course there are those olives.... Try them all and tell me your favorite.