Monday, April 26, 2010

Skewers near Oakland’s Lake Merritt

Business Lunch Gets a Mediterranean Twist
1999 Harrison St. (at 20th Street), Oakland
Uptown/Lake Merritt neighborhoods
PH: 510.452.2700
Open weekdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

Looking at some of the new lunch options around my offices, today I feature a spot that’s literally across the street from my building near Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Skewers opened a few months ago and even though its address says Harrison Street, the entrance faces 20th Street between a dry cleaners and Starbucks. It used to be a tired, old sandwich spot where these ladies made sandwiches that looked so home-made I resented whenever I had to pay $5 for something I could have brought from home.

So I was happy to see Skewers take its place, with its fresh décor and large dining area. The casual restaurant specializes in meat like lamb and beef cooked on a spit and thinly sliced off to create sandwiches, or like the name says skewers grilled and served as platters or wraps.

The Mediterranean feel took me back to New York, where this type of cooking is so popular for lunch because of its convenience, flavor and ability to make you full for little money. Skewers’ white walls are decorated with a few travel pictures, mostly of London, another city like New York that welcomes a good falafel or gyro.

Side note: Skewers have a few prepared salads in the refrigerated section. I would avoid this because once I got the chicken Caesar salad and the chicken was fine but the croutons in the salad were soft and spongy. It really threw off my overall impression of the salad.

For the rest of the menu, you order at the counter and get a number so your plate will be brought to your table. My first time, I ordered the Chicken Shawerma Wrap ($7.50), which was made up of chicken shavings from the spit with lettuce, pickles, red onions, and maybe tahini?

The wrap looked pretty big and was packed with chicken meat, which kind of made up for Skewers’ slightly higher lunch prices. The chicken was good and rustic, almost meaty like lamb because of the way it was cooked. I liked how the wrap was nice and warm with the grilled marks so it’s like a toasted burrito. My favorite part was the bits of pickles, giving the wrap a nice twist now and then when eating.

Next time I ordered a Lamb/Beef Gyros Wrap ($7.50) that I brought back to my office. The wrap seemed longer than the shawerma, almost foot long (don’t hold me to it since I didn’t have a measuring tape). It seemed very similar to the shawerma with the lettuce and pickles. The only difference was the yogurt, which there was a lot near the end. Overall, the taste was good but I felt like it wasn’t packed with much lamb and beef, which were just a few thin slices hidden in the center.

On another visit I decided to order a skewer platter, which, I know, is a lot to eat for lunch. The options include chicken, lamb, or beef, or the mixed option where you choose two. All the platters cost $10.95.

I got the mixed grill platter with chicken and lamb. The platter was huge with the two skewers sitting on a big puddle of hummus that was so creamy it was like whipped batter. I liked it, especially when I dipped the two pita bread that came on the side. The chicken skewer was slightly yellow, making me think it would taste like curry but it didn’t really have any distinct flavor. Maybe it was tumeric?

The chicken was tender and moist, which was a good thing. The lamb, though, was chewy and I think I like the lamb cut into thin slices in a sandwich instead of as cubes on a skewer. The rice was a big scoop of long grain rice with nuts, and the salad was fresh like a Greek salad with tomatoes, cheese, and kalamata olives.

There are also items that try to appeal to more traditional tastes, like the grilled sandwich options. Choices include salmon, chicken, eggplant and hamburger. On one visit, I got the Grilled Mediterranean Chicken ($7.95) and it really didn’t look like it came from a Mediterranean kitchen.

The grilled chicken was on a bun that almost looked like an egg bun in texture but not as yellow. It wasn’t my favorite kind of bread to use because of its height, but the chicken was very tender and tasty. It was sandwiched with spinach leaves and sun-dried tomatoes with creamy feta cheese. You can get the sandwiches with French fries or a huge Greek salad of fresh greens, cucumber, tomato and feta with a very light vinaigrette (in fact, it may have just been oil and vinegar).

One visit I brought along my co-worker Sue, who did order the hamburger. It looked a bit odd because of the square patty shape, but Sue seemed to enjoy it although a bit dry. (I know she especially enjoyed all the free chips that they were serving up).

I was tempted to try the falafel sandwich, but couldn’t get past the idea of the falafel being deep-fried. So instead I tried something I never had before called a Mosakhan Wrap ($7.50). This was made up of chicken bits that’s like ground beef smothered in onion, although you really can’t see the onions. It had just a slight onion taste.

The mosakhan, which supposedly takes a long time to cook the meat to create it, included nuts that I think were almonds. Everything was compressed to create this nice, savory wrap that was rich and filling. The wrap itself was almost like a flaky pastry because it was breaking near the center from the filling and the oil. It was served with a bowl of cucumber Greek yogurt salad.

Because of the prices, I can’t eat at Skewers every day, but it’s nice to know it’s there as an option. It’s so convenient to my workplace and the counter people and server are always friendly. While I’m not a big fan of the lamb and beef, I do find the chicken to always be tender and tasty.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Nice alternative to sandwiches)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Skewers Mediterranean Delight on Urbanspoon

What's for lunch?
Trueburger: "Upscale Burgers Arrive in the East Bay"
Chef Edwards' BBQ: "A New Version of an Oakland Classic"
Kim Huong: "When Gimmicks Trump Authenticity"


foodhoe said...

That looks like a score, single guy! The last wrap thing, the mosakhan, sounds a little bit like the chicken cecilia from le med. The fuschia colored pickles look so festive too.

A said...

looks good.
Are u going to the next Underground FM in May? I'll probably go.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, the pickles were pretty, but I was too scared to eat it because of the color.

A, I'm going to be out of town for the next Underground FM. Did you go to the last one? Did you buy anything?

Cookie said...

The meat on the spit reminded me of where I worked during high school. Have you ever been to Gators in Fremont?

A said...

I didn't go to the last Underground FM I chickened out. Hope to go in May.

Jenster said...

Your photos look delicious! Ben, I assume you've had falafel before, but in case you haven't, it's delicious! If you have a well-made one, it doesn't taste deep-fried at all. It has such a meaty texture I forget that it's vegeterian.

Single Guy Ben said...

Cookie, I've never been to Gators. Was it a falafel shop?

Jenster, I think I have eaten falafel when I was in New York. I do like the idea of falafel because of the vegetarian aspect, but I'm just not a fan of deep-fried food. And it's not that I'm worried about the greasy taste because I know expertly done fried food can taste light or no oil taste as all, but that doesn't mean the oil has evaporated and isn't still in the food. It's that part that I can't get past.