"Streamlined, simplified, Kabob Korner channels longtime Indy favorite Kabul
If you had operated a restaurant for nigh on two decades, you might be ready for a change. But when Nasir Ayoubi sold off his beloved eatery Kabul at 86th and Ditch after 18 years in business, Indy diners certainly weren’t ready to give up on their sole source for delicious Afghani cuisine. Where would we get some of the city’s most tender kabobs? Where would we get leek dumplings or aromatic rice dishes full of slow-cooked chicken or lamb? Where, oh where, would we get such a complex and soothing soup?
Of all the questions I got over the months since Kabul closed and became Garam Masala Indian Grill, none were so frequent as, “Do you know where I can get a recipe for the soup?” It was on the menu at Garam Masala at first, as were some of the other popular dishes from the old place. But whether or not you could get them was always uncertain — and could they be as good as they had been in the past? Couldn’t someone bring back all those rare and succulent dishes the way we remembered them?
Well, now someone has. At least a few of them. It turns out that the retired life wasn’t all Ayoubi had hoped. He missed the life of the restaurant, found that he still needed a hobby to keep him busy. So, he decided to open a new place on the opposite side of town that would offer some of the old Kabul dishes in a much simpler, walk-up and takeout friendly format. Finally, I could tell those readers asking about the soup that they could once again get them at Ayoubi’s latest enterprise, Kabob Korner, just east of the entrance to Castleton Mall.
Given how stripped down and barebones the new place is, however, longtime devotees of Kabul are likely to view it in one of two ways: as a pale simulacrum of the original or as a place to celebrate the spirit of the old place — and feast on, at least, some of its best food. Certainly, the latter view will make for a more pleasant experience, and Ayoubi will likely serve you himself now, making you feel more than welcome at his new place. Still, a bit of straining is necessary to make the experience of his food the way it was before.
Part of that comes from the new storefront location, which can’t exactly escape its Castleton environs. The new spot is actually quite spiffy and spacious, with bright orange and purple walls and shiny metal tables. But ordering at the counter and receiving your food on Styrofoam plates on plastic trays doesn’t exactly allow for as complete of an experience of Afghani cuisine as before. The night we dined, the lack of any music in the quite sparse dining room meant we had to make do with the whirring of the furnace and the howl of the wind outside.
Nonetheless, Indy has been reunited with Afghani food, which definitely makes it worth a trip, even if the food has changed a bit in the intervening months. Take the soup ($2.50), aush, for instance. This is still one of Indy’s most hearty and edifying soups. With a rich, complex broth, plenty of noodles, veggies, ground beef, and beans seasoned with dill and topped with tangy yogurt, it’s still delicious. The current version is perhaps a bit more salty and less tangy — did the old one have more lemon? A bit more tomato? Vegetables are also now more reminiscent of frozen California blend than before. But dipping our spoons in, we had the sense were being reunited with a long-lost friend.
I don’t remember the sambosas from the old place, or if they had them, but the ones at Kabob Korner ($3) have plenty of seasoned ground beef in a wonderfully buttery pastry. The leek dumplings are no longer available, but manto, delicate little pillows filled with ground beef and caramelized onions topped with tomato sauce and yogurt definitely hit the spot. With a healthy serving of basmati rice (they no longer serve the spiced rice with raisins and carrots) and a chopped salad with surprisingly red tomatoes for winter, it’s a healthy dinner for just $6.48. Kurma chalow, also $6.48, seemed a little more timidly seasoned than before but still with quite tasty, tender lamb in a rich tomato sauce. All comparisons aside, Ayoubi’s friendly new place does deliver some tasty eats you won’t get elsewhere. That this restaurateur is back in business, even in a new form, is reason for Indy diners to be glad.
6066 E. 82nd St.
Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2p.m.
Dinnerr: Mon.-Sat. 5 p.m.-9p.m.
Food: Three and a half stars
Atmosphere: Three stars
Service: Three and a half stars
Nonsmoking, Handicapped accessible
Recommended dishes: sambosas, aush, manto, kurma chalow