Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nora's Kabob in Ellicott CIty

"You don't eat meat? I'll make lamb." -- My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nothing tastes better than food that you didn't expect to find.

We had a Saturday of serendipity -- a beautiful find at Home Anthology and then stumbling on Nora's Kabob in Ellicott City.

It's not truly "stumbling."  It's listening to the comments on HowChow where people had talked up the kabobs at this Rte 40 spots.  But I never expected to push open the door and find a modern spot in the style of Maiwand Kabob -- a short menu, delicious grilled meats and sides that show the kitchen has real ambition.

Comparisons to Maiwand Kabob are high praise since I consider it one of the best restaurants in Howard County.  Maiwand may win out based on straight-from-the-oven naan, but Nora's makes the exceptional list because everything -- even the meat dishes -- focuses on bright, fresh vegetables and flavors.  Even the restaurant is bright with black tiles and hand-wood floors.

I ordered a gyro, and the meat was terrific.  It could have been hotter, but I think it actually cooled because the pita was packed with vegetables.  The full lamb flavor, contrasted with the crunch and tang of diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.  Then topped with salty feta and a creamy sauce rich with dill.

Fresh dill.  Whipped into yogurt with a generous, talented hand.  You're not getting that talent at even your favorite chain.  This was someone who had figured out how to create a strong sauce that held its own with lamb and onions, but never overwhelmed the sandwich.

Nora's Kabob's menu should be open to anyone who likes fresh food.  The folks at Nora's know that because they installed a giant welcome sign in a few dozen languages -- Arabic and Persian, but also Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Chinese.  You order at the counter for takeout and with a waiter if you want to eat in.

Mrs. HowChow ate a basic -- chicken kabob with rice and vegetables.  Again, it was anything but basic.  The chicken was juicy white meat.  The vegetables were a full grilled tomato, contrasted with lightly-pickled cabbage.  And the rice makes all the difference.  It's just white rice, but it's made perfectly -- just enough oil for flavor but no grease.  Then, they layer a saffron rice across the top.

I drive by Mexican restaurants every month because I feel like half of my plate will be disappointing rice and beans.  I'd rather eat tacos from takeout containers than double my bill and be disappointed.  Nora's rice shows that even a simple dish can be something special -- something that I certainly can't pull off in my own kitchen.

Overall, Nora's seems like a real gem if you like a meat and fresh vegetables combination.  Next time, I'll go back for one of the beef kabobs and a mix of the mezze.  At the counter, I saw a range of fresh vegetarian items -- hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and a yogurt-spinach dish.  My gyro came with a small spinach pie -- a smooth spinach filling wrapped by a toothsome pastry.  The effort put into that tiny dish suggests that all these mezze will be terrific.

Has anyone had the falafel wrap at Nora's?  I've been wanting a good falafel around Howard County.  Anyone try the Koobideh gyro?  Only as I was writing did I notice that it comes with "spicy spank sauce."  That needs to be tried.

Nora's Kabob
9338 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR:  Nora's is in a shopping center on the north side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  It's in the Village Green shopping center with Shannon's.

Nora's kabob on Urbanspoon


carotte_sauvage said...

I haven't had the falafel wrap, but I get the falafel plate often. Their falafels are excellent. I was just commenting on how nice it is to find a place with such good falafels - they don't suffer from dryness, a common falafel problem. Nora's is really accommodating too, and gave me a side of grilled veggies when I asked. It's a great addition to all the fast food and Korean places on Route 40.

persian food expert said...

Mr. How Chow, you need to ask for the Soltani when you go there. It's a Persian restaurant so if you want to experience their best food. Ask for that.

Here is the Persian Kabob breakdown:

Koobideh- Ground Beef Skewered Kabobs with rice
Barg- Filet Mignon Kabobs with rice
Joojeh Kabob- Chicken Breast Kabob with Rice
Soltani- (literally meaning the sultans) Ground Beef and Filet with Rice

The best persian food though is in Rockville at Yekta. Waterloo kabob is a okay alternate to Nora if you're closer to that area

Joan said...

I can appreciate fresh ingredients, but am I the only one who thinks we have enough middle eastern restaurants? I am not a kabob fan, but places are springing up everywhere, including Garbanzo which is opening soon. On the other hand I would love a good place to get fresh seafood (and not just crabs and shrimp, but fish too) in Columbia. That is a cuisine I think we are lacking.

Zevonista said...

Joan, Catonsville Gourmet isn't in Columbia, but it's very close. Great seafood and BYOB, so it stays affordable. Expect a wait on Friday and Saturday nights, since they don't take reservations; but you can call ahead to get on the list...

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see more seafood places as well. I've never been to C'Vill Gourmet, though it is on my list of place to try.

Odd that good Sushi is abundant in Columbia, but good cooked seafood is basically non-existent.

ghazarian said...

I ate at nora's kabob once. It was horrible. The lamb kabob was dry and over cooked. It had no taste and the rice was as plain as could be. Why did these people set the TINY restaurant up for waiter style service. Makes no sense at all. They give you a decent amount of food but for the price it's not worth it. Go to Maiwand if you can

Y said...

I just tried Nora's. I've been a fan of Maiwand so I wanted to compare them since many people talk it up.
I had chicken and ground meat ones. They were nice. Rice was just plain rice as the post above mine said. No flavor added with safran or oil. Persian food here you say? I will try their farafel and gyro next before I retreat back to Maiwand.
Servers were young caucasians with pleasant manner.