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Petaluma: Real Doner (Gyro) is destination worthy ... amazing great

Thanks to this tip from audacious, I tried the real wonderful Real Doner today.

Audacious wrote in that link "food was absolutely DELICIOUS ... I had the chicken gyro wrap which was insanely good the rice was mouth-watering and the salad was zesty ... really i recommend it for sureee"

Oddly enough this week I did a doner kabob crawl. I half-jokingly think it was food fate. The first two I tried gave me a benchmark to measure a good doner kabob and recognize true greatness.

This was a huge wrap in a flatbread that was crispy a bit in spots from a brief grilling. It lovinging wrapped generous deeply beefy meat, pickled red cabbage, chopped tomatoes, a bit of chopped lettuce, a wonderful sauce. There were layers of flavor ... a little garlic here and there.

To make this even more amazing it came with pickled sides where as much thought went into the presentation as the taste ... thinly sliced marinated white onlions flecked with lovely green herbs, were next to the pickled red cabbage beautifully topped with white feta and completing the trio was a yellow pepperoni.

All this wonderfullness ... $5.50

I don't have a poker face. That usually works against me because people know instantly when I'm displeased. However, in restaurants it sometimes works for me when I know a look of bliss lights it up.

The chef knew I was really digging his food and sent me out a complimentary hummus ... something I would never order myself because at best I tolerate it and at worst I despise it.

This was a whole different category and came with the most wonderful, pillowy bread with white and black seeds on top. Another beautiful presentation with a delicious black olive in the center and red and green herbs and spices sprinkled on top with a touch of golden olive oil.

The Turkish coffee in a lovely china cup with red poppies on it was terrific. The lady at the counter asked how sweet I wanted it and read my mind about exactly what would be perfect for my taste. Just lovely.

I'll post the menu in the first reply. They have been open a week.

It is a deli set-up with a refrigerated case with salads that is topped with wonderful pastries. There is a cooler in back with bottled beverages. There are some counter seats, about 10 tables and a few outdoor tables.

Real Doner (Gyro
)307 F St, Petaluma, CA 94952

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  1. Menu ... from my notes some of which I can't read my own writing so forgive the spelling more than usual.

    Eggplant salad
    Baba Ganouj
    Hatay potato salad

    Ezu Gelin soup
    Greek salad

    Cigarette borek
    Spinach pie
    Feta pie

    Wraps and plates
    Lamb & beef gyro
    Chicken gyro
    Lamb Shiskabob
    Chicken shishkabob
    Adana kabob

    Plates only

    Grilled kofte kabobs
    Iskander kebob

    There were some combos of the above as well.

    Also the refrigerated case has some items not on the menu on the wall such as meatballs and chicken salad.

    Pistachio "fistkili" baklava
    Bulbol Yuvasi
    Sutlak (rice pudding)

    Those lamb shish kabobs were a thing of beauty. Prices are low ranging from about $5.50 to a high of $12.99 for a combo plate.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      There's a recent glowing review on Yelp by someone who seems to be familiar with Turkish food.


    2. Ah, but the real question is whether this is related to the dear departed Real Gyro: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/39324

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        The answer is sort of in that thread. If I didn't misunderstand, it is the brother of Chef Vahit who is currently in Turkey ... again if I understood correctly. However, it is not the same owners from Real Gyro. At least that much I'm certain of.

      2. Wow...this place sounds like the real deal! It surprises me there aren't more European style doner places in the US.

        1. I went here today for lunch after reading this post. I think overall this is a pretty good restaurant. I went with the #15 (Beef and Lamb gyro wrap). The gyro meat definitely tastes more like beef than lamb. I thought the meat was well seasoned but a tad overdone for my tastes. I am used to gyro meat being a little more moist. The sauce they put in the gyro wrap is outstanding. I also though the piece of feta on the side was very good and adding a side of it in the wrap would take it to another level.

          The people working were extremely friendly and the price ($5.50) was nice on the wallet. I would like to come back and try the chicken.

          15 Replies
          1. re: pininex

            I seem to be on some sort of doner kebab journey this week. Who do you think does a better one in the Bay Area.

            1. re: rworange

              I would go with A La Turca on Geary in the City and Mediterranean Kebab in Burlingame.

              1. re: pininex

                I gave A La Turca a try

                I will say that the house-baked pide was the best I've had. It could be a timing thing too since I got there at opening and they were just pulling it out of the oven. I didn't care for the meat though. If you like that style of meat, you might give Turkish Kitchen in Berkeley a try. The lamb there is a whole lot more flavorful. The pita is good, but not as good as at A La Turka.

                Don't get over to Burlingame much, but I'll put MediterraneanKebab on my to-try list when I'm in the area.

              2. re: rworange

                Do you know any places in SF proper that do doner kebop in the style you describe above (i.e., with the cabbage, sauce, pide, etc.)?

                1. re: a_and_w

                  Thanks to the tip from Real Doner and some sleuthing on the part of Melanie ... yes ... the brother, Chef Vahit Basir has a place a few doors up from Dottie's True Blue Cafe. The doner kebop is very similar, though not exactly the same. Here's the report

              3. re: pininex

                I went there today and also had the #15 (Beef and Lamb gyro wrap). The only thing on the side was one small pepper. The gyro/doner was really good, though.

                I'm also wondering what rworange ordered when she reported above that her $5.50 wrap came with "pickled sides where as much thought went into the presentation as the taste ... thinly sliced marinated white onlions flecked with lovely green herbs, were next to the pickled red cabbage beautifully topped with white feta and completing the trio was a yellow pepperoni". I had none of that except the yellow pepperoni.

                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                  At that point I was doing a comparison to the beef doner I had at Cyprus earlier in the week. So I just said 'beef doner wrap'. I have since given that up at other places going for the lamb/beef gyro. Maybe because I just had beef, they gave me a few extra sides?

                  You have to realize how clueless I am with Middle Eastern food. While the name of the restaurnt is Real Doner ... the menu lists everything as gyros ... so I wasn't sure if that was the same thing at that point and ordered the wrap exactly as it was listed at Cyprus in Berkeley.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Now I'm not clear if that "pickled sides ..." referred to Real Doner or Cyprus.

                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                      Sides were at Real Doner. Cyprus was a pretty straight-up gyro and nothing else.

                      1. re: rworange

                        >Sides were at Real Doner<

                        Did you have the #15 (Beef and Lamb gyro wrap)? i had that and got none of those sides except the yellow pepper. I'm just trying to determine if we ordered the same thing.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Could you explain how a doner could be made with just beef for you? There are only two cones, one is chicken and the other is beef and lamb. I didn't inspect it, but typically the beef and lamb slices would be interleaved on the stack. Then when the meat is cut along the vertical axis, both will be shaved off.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Don't know. I didn't look closely at the meat,but it didn't seem as packed down or evenly shaped like the cones. It was also a little thicker than on the cones.

                              So either
                              - they just selected the beef slices for me
                              - didn't understand and gave me both ... in which case the lamb didn't taste different than beef

                              At that point I was still clueless about this whole thing and trying to do a comparison to Cyprus which was only beef. In fact, Kronos sells beef-only versions

                              Given the similarity to Eden where the lamb/beef taste is distinctive, it could have been they did pick out just the beef for me. Turkish Kitchen also had distinctive beef/lamb flavors. I didn't ask there because I knew there was just the combo available.

                              1. re: rworange

                                I would hope that RD is not using Kronos munched up meat cones and is assembling them in-house! "pininex" described the döner as tasting more of beef than lamb, so it could be that the proportion of lamb is minimal and doesn't come through in the taste. If the slices are interleaved and not made of ground meat, it's near impossible to separate them.

                          2. re: Mick Ruthven

                            My #15 came with some pickled red cabbage, a piece of feta, and a pepperoncini on the side.

                2. Thanks for the review. I can fondly remember the Doners that my fiance and I had in Berlin 2 years ago at 9am, after having stayed up all night, partying first at the Staatsoper, and then at various clubs in Berlin until, again, 9am. There's really nothing better after a full day of drinking, is there?

                  Trouble is... how to get to the doner place without a DUI???

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: HHumbert

                    Ah ... if you live in SF, as I'm going to repeat, there's Eden's Restaurant. It is the brother of the owner of Real Doner. The style is very similar and they are open on Fri-Sat until 2 am. Located just off Union Square on Geary and Jones, they are open until 2am on Fri-Sat ... drink away and take that cab home. Here's the report again

                    1. re: HHumbert

                      I had an similar experience, but I was stumbling back to the hostel after a night of grooving to tunes and weissbier at Tacheles. I fell in love with döners then and there.

                      1. re: siddacious

                        For comparison purposes, here's a shot of the döner I had in Macon in the Burgundy region of France three years ago. The shop was called Ankara and is in the old section of town.


                    2. I made my own pilgrimage to Real Döner in Petaluma for lunch on Friday. The gracious woman who greeted me is Binnur Apaydin and I recognized her from Santa Rosa’s Real Gyro. She’s the sister of Chef Joe Besir and Vahit Besir. She said that Joe had worked at restaurants in NY/NJ. She explained that a Petaluma location was more convenient for her family. From the number of new customers at lunch time, it seems like this small kebap house is just what this part of town needs as well.

                      Since the döner kebap (“gyro”) here has been well-covered, I ordered the Adana kebap sandwich, $6.50, that had been my favorite order at RG. As I did there, I asked for it on pide (“homemade bread”), rather than wrapped in lavosh. I also ordered an ayran, which is not on the menu. Ms. Apaydin mixed the refreshing yogurt drink for me herself.

                      It was sunny enough on Friday to take a seat at table outside. Soon Ms. Apaydin surprised me with a complimentary dish of hummus with some slices of homemade bread. This puree was delicious with some coarser bits of mashed garbanzo beans, a big dose of garlic and extra olive oil and tahini for creaminess.

                      Sample plate of hummus with pide

                      Then the Adana kebap, which was like a reunion with a long lost friend. The spicing was very similar to my recollection of Chef Vahit’s with a bit finer grain and more compact texture to the soft and tender meat patty. Perfectly grilled with a dark char yet still juicy and moist inside. The slipper-shaped pide with the black and white sesame seed dusting seemed even better than before with a richer yeast tone and chewier and more irregular crumb. The spiced shavings of red onion had too strong a bite for me, but other than that, the very fresh veggie garnishes of lettuce, cucumber and diced tomato were assembled in good proportion but maybe too much. The pinkish yogurt sauce served on the side (and unfortunately washed out by the bright sunlight in the photo) was spiced with the unique blend of dill and red pepper paste that I remember from RG, and is the crowning glory of the kebap style here.

                      Adana kebap on homemade bread

                      For comparison, here’s the last Adana I had at Real Gyro. I can’t say exactly just from looking at the photo, but the more finely chopped garnishes look like they were dressed with a light vinaigrette and some minced parsley.

                      I told Ms. Apaydin that Chef Vahit Besir may be more famous, but Chef Joe was making these two items equally well. She was somewhat sketchy on the whereabouts of Chef Vahit when I inquired about him. She said that he was on vacation in Turkey and that he wanted to live in San Francisco and start a restaurant there. When I related this to Chef Vahit at Eden’s in SF yesterday, he laughed and said that they don’t really talk these days. There has been some kind of family rift but he seemed to appreciate the news of the good start in Petaluma.

                      Edited to add: Meats are halal. Like RG, there are no religious symbols or signs indicating this, but I asked.

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks as identifying the bread with that great hummus as pide. Yes, definately the best of the bunch that I've tried so far ... next tier ... pide-wise only was A La Turca with Turkish Kitchen trailing. Looking forward to trying Gyro King for the pide.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          >I asked for it on pide (“homemade bread”), rather than wrapped in lavosh.<

                          They didn't offer that as an option when I was there, at least with my #15 (Beef and Lamb gyro wrap). Do you have to know about the pide on your own and ask for it? And, as I said earlier, I got no sides except one pepper. I'm still wondering what to expect from this place.

                          1. re: Mick Ruthven

                            Now just what did you do to these people, MIck? :-)

                            They wrapped mine in lavosh and didn't offer an option. They seemed to be super busy when I went and popular with the locals. One woman said it was the talk of their office and people were ordering a lot of things.

                            Given they were open only a week, maybe they underestimated demand and ran out. Did you get the red cabbage in your gyro?

                            It seems like someone else got the pickled veggies on the side or I'd chalk it up to me being chatty and asking a lot of questions and getting a few freebies like the hummus.

                            Maybe they are just not that into you ... I'm joking, of course. They are not really all that easy people talk to., though friendly. Given my cluelessness, I asked what the name of the bread was they wrapped the gyro in and was told it was just a Middle Eastern flat bread that most Middle Eastern markets got. Never actually got the word lavosh out of them.

                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                              At every Turkish restaurant I've ever been to, I want my kebaps on pide. In the Bay Area, they're often referred to as "wraps" on the menus, which kind of signifies that they'll be in lavosh, so I'm extra careful to ask if pide is available. One time at Gyro King I forgot to specify, but the counter man didn't hesitate to unwrap the sandwich and put it on pide for me. The pide at Real Döner are a bit large for this use, which leads me to believe that they're not baking them for sandwiches but to accompany plates. I didn't notice anything on the overhead menu indicating pide as an option here. But any Turkish restaurant that's trying to be authentic should be able to accommodate this, don't settle for anything less. If I wanted lavosh, I'd go to an arabic place and order a shwarma wrapped in lavosh.

                              When I ordered the Adana kebap, I was asked if I wanted everything including onions inside the sandwich. I said, "yes". I imagine that if the ordertaker had forgotten to ask the customer's preferences, some of the garnishes would be put on the side rather than inside the sandwich in case he/she wanted them. I had nothing on the side except the sauce, no pepperoncini.

                              Also, I'm curious about the references to red cabbage. The typical garnish, and one that was in my sandwich is very finely shaved red onions that are pickled and dusted with sumac powder (brickish bits). Is there really red cabbage? That would be odd. I'm thinking that the spiced onions might look like red cabbage to the uninitiated.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                As the uninitiated, could be red onions. Hoever, it looked like red cabbage and crunched like red cabbage with absolutely no oniony taste. Maybe someone else could comment. Didn't seem like it was dusted with anything either.

                                I'm taking a look at Eden's menu which has more details, but unfortunately they mention neither onions nor cabbage.

                                I was wondering about this as well, since none of the other places had anything similar. Looking at the wikipedia article on doner kabobs they mention various countries like Germany, Italy and Ireland offering cabbage and I was wondering if the version by these brothers is influenced by some other place they might have lived overseas.

                                Honestly, I find it hard to beleive this is not cabbage. Never would I have ever suspected onion either by look or taste. This is deep red like red cabbage.

                                Another weird thing, one of the customers mentioned a sandwich with peanut sauce. Anyone had that? It seems out of character with the cuisine. I think they said it was a chicken sandwich. However, my ears could have failed me and it was something that sounded like peanut sauce.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Here's the photo of my kebap plate at Eden's, which shows the side of spiced red onions. The ones at Real Döner were shaved even thinner, about a third as wide, and have more brickish colored sumac dusted on them.

                                  Onions that are pickled lose their sulfury bite and taste sweet. Maybe you've run across this at Mexican restaurants, Indian tandoori places, or other food establishments that douse raw sliced onions with some lemon juice or vinegar. They are also a bit firmer and less watery.

                                  But as siddacious points out, red cabbage is a common garnish in some parts of the world.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    What a beautiful presentation and photo! I think I'm going to switch to ordering plates instead of wraps at these places as I also do at the Falafel Hut in San Rafael (more meat and lots more sides).

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      I've looked at that photo again and again. The gyros probably do have red onions in them. I didn't disect them and just saw something red in there. However, I'm thinking the salad on the side really was cabbage and I just made the leap that it was also cabbage in the gyro.

                                      Thanks for all the great info and photos. I'm learning so much.

                                      Mick, I have a question about Falafel Hut which I asked in one of your old threads.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        >Mick, I have a question about Falafel Hut which I asked in one of your old threads.<

                                        How about repeating it here or providing a link to that thread?

                                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                          Ah, I just assume everyone reads everything and since it got bumped up to page one, I thought you'd see it. Sorry.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            For some reason, that thread didn't come to the top with "New" flagged. Anyway, I don't have an answer for you since I've only had the shawarma and shawarma plate at Falafel Hut.

                                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Though it my be uncommon here, red cabbage was on every döner I had in Berlin. As a result of the distinct difference in quality and texture of the Berlin döner (kebap) from your average Kronos gyro over here, I strongly associate "döner" with "cabbage" (not to mention "delicious"). In my mind, it's one thing that separates a "doner" from a "gyro".

                                    PS: Thanks (to Melanie) for your in-depth reporting on quality döner establishments. I've been looking for a good one (half heartedly) since getting back from Germany.

                                    1. re: siddacious

                                      Yes, I've had cabbage on döners. But I can't recall cabbage PLUS lettuce, rather either/or.

                                      P.S. Wish I could find a döner made with tender veal and sauce blanche like in France.

                                      1. re: siddacious

                                        Red cabbage and also usually no cucumbers in the yoghurt sauce.

                                2. I forgot to menion I also bought a kadayif, which is a shredded phylio pastry that looks a little like a bird's nest. Wikipedia on this dessert

                                  It looked a little like this picture but had green ground pistachios sprinkled on top.

                                  It had a nice shredded wheat type of texture and the bottom was in a sweet syrup. I don't usually like these type of desserts like baklava because they are too sweet for me. However, this was not overly sweet and pleasant. Their desserts just look so good.

                                  1. Excellent recommendation! My wife and I checked it out today. We had the hummus and babaganouj appetizers followed by the lamb & beef doner platter and grilled kofte platter. All kinds of great stuff going on there. We enjoyed how the meat was served over a bed of bulgar and rice. Even the rice had stuff going on...looked like pieces of rice noodle mixed in there. The side salads...pickled red cabbage with feta, pickled onions and L&T salads were also very good. The yoghurt sauce with dill was most excellent...I could have eaten it with a spoon.

                                    Tasted just like somebody might make you at home. That is, somebody with a passion for good cooking.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chilihead2006

                                      A dish you might like is Iskender kebap (aka Alexander kabob), which is slices of doner meat mixed with cubes of the homemade bread and drizzled with yogurt sauce and melted butter. If it's not on the menu here, ask for it, as I'm sure it can be made from ingredients on hand.

                                      Thanks for confirming the pickled red cabbage.

                                    2. Thursday I returned to Real Döner for lunch intending to order the ezo gelin (lentil soup) to compare it with Eden’s version. However, Chef Joe Serder Besir (per his business card) had decided to make chicken and rice soup instead. Served with a wedge of lemon, the broth was clean and direct with good intensity. Besides rice, this had celery, carrots and peas, as well as a generous quantity of overcooked chicken breast. I’d order this again, but ask for more broth and hold the breast meat.

                                      Chef Joe must have been struck by some extra inspiration, as he decided to make ezme as a special appetizer. I asked for a half-order of this along with a half of baba ganouj, which are my two favorites from his brother, Chef Vahit Besir. The baba ganouj was disappointing with a grainy rather than pulpy texture and no smokiness at all. The ezme, however, made up for all that. With a similar coarse chop to Chef Vahit’s, the heat in this came from Turkish chili pepper paste and the pieces of walnut were more evident. This was more melded and did not have the surprise rush of heat from biting into stray bits of jalapeño chili, and I liked it as much as the version at Eden’s. So far on the mezes, they’re tied with equal performance for ezme, better baba ganouj by Chef Vahit, and superior hummos by Chef Joe.

                                      I also tried the sutlac (rice pudding), $3.95. I didn’t look at it before ordering or I would have changed my mind. Instead of the carmelized top of Chef Vahit’s, this was white on the surface and sprinkled with ground pistachios. The custard was lumpy and I didn’t care for the floral flavoring. It wasn’t recognizable as rosewater or orange water to me, not sure what it was, but I didn’t like it.

                                      Lunch at Real Doner -

                                      I complimented Chef Joe on the ezme and asked which type and brand of Turkish pepper he uses. The jar, unfortunately, had disappeared and he couldn’t show me. Instead he gave me directions for how to mimic the spicy taste using our local ingredients. No proportions, but he said to grind jalapeños, red Fresno chili peppers, habaneros, and a sweet red bell pepper, combine the mixture with some olive oil and dried crushed red pepper flakes, and then spread this on a tray and dry it in the sun. He said the taste was not quite the same, but very hot and good to spice things up.

                                      I also learned that Binnur is nearly recovered, thank goodness. It won’t be too long before she’s back at work.

                                      1. Personally, our experience recently at Real Doner was a real downer.

                                        My husband had the beef and lamb, which he said was dry and seriously lacking in seasoning.

                                        I wanted to try the adana kebab, but having a wheat allergy, I told the gentleman taking my order that I couldn't have the flatbread and would need to have it without. It seemed to totally puzzle him, so I re-explained. He shoke his head and wrote down my order "no bread".

                                        Fifteen minutes later, my husband's dish was brought to the table. I had to wait another 8 minutes for my dish, which was the "log" of adana kebab starkly alone on the plate, with the sauce in a cup on the side. Perhaps I should have told them about the way places like In'n'Out and Carl's Jr. accomodate celiacs by using lettuce leaves to encase the meat.

                                        Oh well. The adana was at least tasty, albeit a bit overcooked, with good spice. The sauce was very nice, one I'd like to re-create at home. Overall, however, not a great experience. Don't know if we'll try them again.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: cmvan

                                          You know, while I'm really sympathetic to people with special dietary needs, it is like the vegan on another forum that had a major rant because a Brazilian restaurant wouldn't accomodate him. It's was a restaurant that was about nothing but meat. I guess it is more the comment about the superiority of fast food accomodations that gets me here. From the first couple of sentences, even I didn't know you were expecting something wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Did you ask them to do that?

                                          Did you order a gyro with no wrap? Why not just order the the plate? Same thing but less confusing about no bread.

                                          There is a whole deli case of salads displayed so I don't understand not ordering something that would be friendly to your special needs and not leave you feeling like the plate was so stark.

                                          I am in no way encouraging you to go back since this place may never meet your needs, but I wanted to make a few comments about a few other visits I had there.

                                          I am curious if Joe was at the grill. There seems to be a younger guy he is training and on one visit when Joe was occupied in the back, a few of the items were a little off.

                                          Friend and I got the combo kebab plate. I think the beef and lamb on it's own is ok, but it just works better as part of the gyro. The adana kebab and beef were a bit overdone. The chicken kebab was equisite. Nicely charred a bit on the outside and moist and meaty inside. That being said, there are few places I will guarantee chicken. It is such a difficult dish to make consistantly. I base this on BBQ places where today's wonderful chicken is sawdust on the next visit. However, they use large chunks of chicken and I suspect that is why it stood up so well to the grilling.

                                          Mick, you might be pleased to hear that on another visit when I ordered the chicken doner, I only had a pepper on the side so that might be standard and I just got lucky on the first visit.

                                          On the last visit, Binnur was back and made the ayran for me. This was one of the nicest yogurt-based drinks I've ever tried. It is creamy and salty. As on my first visit when Binnur asked if the tea sweetness was ok, she asked if the saltiness level was ok. I thought it was perfect. This is a drink that can only be ordered in-house since they don't have takeout cups. All other beverages are bottled.

                                          I asked for the chicken doner to be on a pide and they were reluctant to do that and it took a little smoozing ... ok, I went over everyone's head and asked Binnur, pretty please. I liked both versions ... lavash or pide equally well. I guess there is the option of either tahini sauce or yogurt sauce and I went with the later. One odd thing that didn't hit me until after I left. Joe asked if I wanted onions in that. I said sure. I rarely turn anything down. I did peer in the sandwich and saw it also had the red cabbage. I took a piece out and chewed on it .. cabbage. Then driving down the road got me to wonder if the restaurant reads Chowhound and decided to offer onions to people who might want them in the kebab. This didn't got asked on the first visit.

                                          Had the soup but forgot to write something about it at the time. All I remember it as being pleasant with a nice mintiness.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            We were at Real Doner a week ago. My wife ordered the falafel plate. The falafel was so salty as to be inedible. The cook said it was his normal recipe and that he made 1,000's of them a day. Sorry, but I don't require anyone's assistance in interpreting if a dish is too salty or not. (We both happen to love anchovies and just bought a huge jar of them at Lucca's yesterday....buonissimo!!) If that's their take on falafel then they might be heading for trouble. Layaly make the best falafel in our opinion.

                                            Additionally, they appear to have a new helper there who seems very inexperienced or perhaps has a language problem. He mistakenly served my meal to a couple who arrive about 15 minutes after we did. I hope that fellow isn't helping in the kitchen. :(

                                            Missing from my wife's inedibly salty falafel plate was the bulgar and rice noodle touches present on our first visit.

                                            The owner graciously gave us a selection of excellent desserts as compensation, so I don't want to beat up on them too badly. But the next time I go there, they'd better be back to their former standard of quality or it may be my last visit.

                                            1. re: chilihead2006

                                              I would hate to see a good place go under because of an inept worker. It sounds like you did give them feedback to get comped the dessert. I know they care. On the visit where Joe was in the back, he came out and said hello and asked how things were. He really wanted to know. There were other things going on that day, sort of a one time situation at the restuarant, so I didn't comment on the two kebabs that were on the dry side. When these folks are great, they are wonderful. Hope people will give feedback if anything isn't great as they seem to be open to it. Probably Binnur is the best person to talk to.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                so i went there again this evening and i had the chicken doner platter and a baba ganouj on the the side. needless to say i was scraping the last remnants of baba ganouj with my side of pita. the bread they served was so moist and tasty that i had to get seconds!

                                                the woman standing in front of me must have been a vegetarian since she said she didnt want any meat. so she was offered the #22 falafel sandwich . they served her such a beautifully decorated salad plate that the next time i'm there, i'm thinking about ordering one for myself! i asked Binnur what that was and she replied that since the woman only wanted the falafels, they didnt want to serve it to her just with the sauce on the side, so they invented the falafel salad on the spot. she emphasized on the importance of customer satisfaction and she insisted that customers are encouraged to make recommendations or comments. in fact, she said that she wishes her customers would leave little comments/complaints in the mailbox outside in order to improve customer satisfaction. i like her idea... and another thing, she's getting another surgery next week so she is going to be out for a few weeks. i wish the best for her and for everybody. i'm so happy theyre around!

                                                1. re: rworange

                                                  On our first visit to Real Doner the food totally knocked our socks off. What a terrific find, we both thought. Our first meal was so darn good, we'll probably be back several times hoping to repeat that experience.

                                                  CH'ers sure are a finnicky lot! :)

                                            2. re: cmvan

                                              My daughter and I can't have gluten (including wheat), dairy, or eggs, and I don't eat meat. But we still had a fabulous meal there. The husband (I think it's a husband and wife team) does seem a bit baffled by "special orders" but makes things as the wife asks him to. She was great and came up with a wonderful spread for us. She has some personal experience with food intolerances in her family so was very sympathetic.

                                              Note to anyone with egg reactions (or soy/other oils), they put a bit of mayo in the hummus and baba ganoosh. The eggplant salad is amazing and purely vegan. Also safe for us: green salad (I didn't order it, it was the owner's idea and it worked), tahini dressing, pickled cabbage, falafel.

                                              Ya know, you can always ask for some lettuce after you see your plate and realize it would be better with some. I do.

                                            3. My husband and I had lunch there today. I had the lamb and beef wrap, and he had the adana kebab wrap. We switched halves, and I ended up liking his better because I thought it had a more complex flavor. No sides - just a pepper (not that I could have eaten anything else - it's a lot of food!). My question is - is there a hot sauce (like Tabasco) for this kind of food? I would have liked it a little spicier. I would have asked, but I didn't want to make a culinary faux pas. Thanks!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: The Librarian

                                                I had the same urge for some hot sauce, so I asked them--they gave me a gently spicy sauce that tasted like ground dried chilies and sumac cooked until a bit smoky in oil. It was good, but not as spicy as I would have liked. Some harissa would have been thrilling, though I guess strongly spicy flavors aren't really authentic.

                                                I had the doner wrap (lamb & beef) the other night, and it was delicious. It had some pickled red onion inside, along with lettuce and yogurt sauce. There were two pickled peppers on the plate, nothing else.

                                                I think this place is a bit hard to read on a first visit--it was very fluorescent and inhospitable feeling to me at 8:30 on a Saturday night, with the deli case looking a little barren, but once I got my food I was very happy.

                                                1. re: SteveG

                                                  Another near miss, Steve. I heard the traffic jam reports and got off the freeway a bit further north for an unplanned dinner stop. Had thought of hitting Real Döner but was concerned I'd be too close to the back up on 101.

                                                  The hot sauce sounds like the chili concoction I mentioned in my April 17 post. Yep, Turkish food isn't that strong on spicy heat. The Besir brothers actually use a bit more chili than others and I've wondered if they're from the eastern part of Turkey.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    I think the sauce I had was house-made. It was in a big plastic tub like the kind bulk yogurt is sold in, and they had to scrape & mix it before filling the little ramekin for me. He warned me it was pretty spicy, but to my Thai & Mexican-tuned taste buds it was pretty tame.

                                                    Funny about the near-miss, I pulled off the freeway and did a chowhound search for Melanie and Petaluma to see what you might have reported on. How did people ever eat before GPS, the internet, and cell phones?

                                              2. I've been there about 4 times so far and loved it. This past Tuesday I went in late and it was completely dead (due to Swine flu paranoia)? I had baba ganouj and a chicken Shish plate both were good but the chicken could have been a little more tender. But eventually we got to talking and it turned into one of those exchanges where you don't want to leave and keep coming up with more to say. We were slapping our knees and roaring with laughter I really had a good time chatting with the cook Sehir (Joe) and his brother and this guy Tarek who was hanging out. I love the food but the warmth and candor will stay with me long after the food has been digested.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Andrew H

                                                  Hey Andrew, still eating at Pita Cafe?

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Yes Melanie, I still like Pita Cafe. I'm concerned about their survival though as its often very dead in there. It makes a nice lunch stop close to work. Real Doner is for dinner:)

                                                    1. re: Andrew H

                                                      I'd heard Pita Cafe was for sale. Have you tried Sahara in Rohnert Park?

                                                2. I finally ate at Real Doner and boy, was I missing out. We liked it so much, we wound up going twice this week. My husband ordered some type of doner (I don't eat meat so I didn't really take much note of it, to be honest). The first time that I went, I had the falafel platter which was outstanding. The sauce was divine and the falafels were perfect. I was very sad when Aram's closed because I've not yet found good falafels anywhere.

                                                  But better yet, the second time that we went, I ordered the meze. It was outstanding. I have eaten many, many mezes. This was one of the best that I've had, hands down. It came with a scoop of baba ghanouj, tabbouli, ezme, some type of beet and yogurt salad, a dolma, humus, another tabouli style dish with a tomato base, potato salad, and a side of bread. I was in food heaven. This was on par with the best of any Turkish cuisine which I've had in the US. The tabouli and dolmas were as good as I've had and the beet (I think -- it was pink and tasted like beets or red cabbage, but only faintly) yogurt salad was to die for. After, we ordered equally outstanding baklava.

                                                  The service was pleasant and it was a beautiful, sunny day so we sat outside on the patio. It's a fairly simple deli-style restaurant but the food is really, really good. I was online trying to figure out what the pink salad was, although we'll probably just go back and ask, and stumbled across this forum. I was surprised to see some mixed reviews, however, they're a few years old. Since I've just eaten there and it's really my new favorite restaurant in Sonoma County, I wanted to weigh in!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: farmers_market_gal

                                                    I ate there yesterday - late afternoon, for the 1st time at this little place - thought it would be like a Gyro - seemed More like a wrap stuffed with bland pot roast and a boring incompatible sauce. $8. Large portion, but really not good at all - VERY BLAND.

                                                    It was freshly made - and the service was great. I just did not care for the texture or the mildly seasoned meat. Maybe I hit the place on an off day - I will return because the service was so friendly. But the food needs to be better, for the price.

                                                    I had a serving of house-made pistachio Baklava - 2 tiny 1-bite pieces on a plate - I think it was $3... ridiculous. I have to say, though - that the Baklava was delicious.

                                                    I will give this place another try.

                                                    Real Doner (Gyro)
                                                    307 F St, Petaluma, CA 94952

                                                  2. I was back at Real Doner for the first time in quite a while. I stopped by two weeks ago after the farmers market for a mid-afternoon late lunch. I ordered a mezze and asked if I could have it half-half with baba ganoush and the spinach, shown here.

                                                    Both items were both just okay and lacking brightness and character. The homemade bread is now a small loaf rather than pide flatbread and has quite a bit less flavor and texture than the previous version.

                                                    Not terrible, but a disappointment compared to the food I've had here before.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      Melanie - I LOVE your reviews. I look for your name every time I am searching ChowHound and your input is always informative and wonderful. Thanks!

                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                        Haven't been following the SF threads for a while. Are the same people there?

                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                          I didn't see them, but I checked the stack of business cards and there hasn't been a change in ownership. You do know that Chef Joe started his own place, right?

                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                              On the north side of Petaluma, Afendi's Turkish Grill.

                                                              Afendi's Turkish Grill
                                                              299 N McDowell Blvd, Petaluma, CA 94954

                                                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          I stopped there a while ago (didn't write about it) and also noticed that they didn't serve that great pide flatbread which was one of the draws there for me. Do you think that "Chef Joe" was the source of the very good food there and it's downhill since he left?

                                                          1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                                            Chef Joe can certainly turn out delicious food. When he left, there were some positive reports for the cooking of the replacement. Maybe Real Doner is going through another change in the kitchen, don't know.

                                                        3. Before Afendi closed, the owner Chef Joe told me that Oktay (Chef Vahit's son-in-law) was working for Binnur Apaydin and her husband at Real Doner. After a two-year absence, last month I returned here and was delighted to see Oktay manning the grill. He was very busy but greeted me warmly. And his aunt, Binnur, treated me like long lost family.

                                                          Following Vahit and Joe's example, Oktay sent out a complimentary appetizer: a plate of hummus and ezme with the homemade pide bread. I was happy to see that the pide is back and served warm. The hummus was much better than my last visit, as good as his rendition at the now closed Eden's, and the ezme was full of fire.

                                                          I had ordered the appetizer combo plate. The potato salad was a bit undersalted and the tabouli needed more acidity. I didn't take to the purple-pink salad, a new one for me, but everything else was more than satisfactory.

                                                          Next, the Adana kebap ordered ala carte. Oktay's grilling skill shows here as it was perfectly cooked with just enough char but not overpowering the mix of lamb and beef. The meat seemed not as highly seasoned as Vahit's kebap. Still, I was happy to see it served with the chile and dill-spiked cacik dipping sauce that Vahit used to serve at Real Gyro in Santa Rosa where it all started.

                                                          My table got even more crowded when my server brought out a piece of pistachio baklava, compliments of the chef. Packed with a generous amount of ground nuts, and the crackly pastry had great loft, not matted down.

                                                          When I'd eaten my fill of lunch and just lifted my fork to taste the baklava, the server came out with a complimentary cup of Turkish tea and said, "They must really like you. I've never seen them treat anyone like this." I laughed and said that I really liked them too and felt guilty for staying away so long. As had been my custom at Joe's and Vahit's places, I increased the tip to more than cover the cost of the freebies, so my waiter made out well too.

                                                          I'd asked Oktay if either of his elders were cooking anywhere else these days. He said that Joe is taking a break from the restaurant world and working at something else. Vahit is working at a friend's restaurant in San Mateo. I followed up with Vahit and learned that he's in negotiations for another restaurant site. Not wanting to jinx it, I don't want to say any more than that.