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Jun 29, 2013 01:15 PM

Döner Kebab--German-Style

Although I live in Indiana, I have a long history of seeking Döner Kebab sandwiches anywhere in the USA, such as I had when in Berlin and other German cities. I have never found one, but I have heard from people who seem to know what they're talking about that two places in the USA exist--one is in Leesburg, VA; the other in College Station, PA.

Before I go to metropolitan areas for visits, I ask about on Chowhound, so the query is this for my mid-August visit to NYC: is there anything like this to be found in Manhattan these days, or nearby, like Brooklyn?

While I don't want to be prickly, let me say in advance that anyone prepared to propose that a gyro or shawarma sandwich ought to be "close enough" shouldn't bother replying, because the German style is distinctive in several ways that matter a lot. (And I can get gyros anywhere.) Generally, only Americans who've been in Germany for military or other reasons know the real deal.

The German döner sandwiches use a "pide" bread, which is more leavened than the flat and often dry pita breads one sees here. The fillings include lamb and/or beef, cabbage, onion, lettuce, and usually a white garlic sauce (bearing no resemblance to tsatziki),and I generally asked in Germany for the "scharfe Soße"--a red hot sauce rather like harissa). This is a food I've not tasted for almost 20 years, because it just cannot seem to catch on in the USA. Can I find my Proustian moment in NYC?

I can link to a picture:

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    1. re: kathryn

      Funny! Thanks. The ingredients just might be okay, but if the reviewer is talking about a stiff pita, that's all wrong.

      But one thing I notice is how frequently Americans who've been in Germany associate Döner kebabs with drunken nights on the town. That wasn't really my MO--I got them in the daytime, anytime. But I think it's because they're street food there. And like the Chinese here, those Berlin Turks worked long and hard hours, up before lunch and on through the night, holidays, you name it...

      1. re: kathryn

        That Doner Co. place must have the weirdest hours. I've tried going twice at different times of day and it's always been closed.

        1. re: pravit

          Which place?

          Edit: sorry, I guess you mean the linked place above. I didn't notice that link initially.

          1. re: pravit

            Did they ever actually open? i feel like i walked past it late one night on the way home from drinking, thought "hey, theres a new doner place coming in here!" and the next time i walked past it was shuttered-looking.

            1. re: tex.s.toast

              Dunno but there are several Yelp reviews and photos. Hope they're not already closed for good.

              1. re: pravit

                Last review was from the day before Valentine's Day, and the one before that from New Years Eve. Can anyone recall seeing it open recently?

        2. Ahem. State College/University Park, PA. College Station's a whole 'nother college town :-)

          Wann holst Du Dein Döner ab hier?

          1 Reply
          1. re: linguafood

            Sorry! about the misnomer. I wasn't being careful enough. If I find myself able to stop by State College on our way to or fro, I will message you.

          2. It's clear that "pide" bread is just the German transcription of "pita", and thus its distinctive, more leavened character must come from the water around the military base(s) where you've served.

            Otherwise, BB, what you describe is a straightforward shawarma or giro or döner -each word signifying a sandwich containing compressed meat that 'turns' on a spit. Finding a version that represents a specific German-style -with sauces to your pleasing (and I'm guessing the Frankfurter v. Berliner v. Kölner v. Leipziger v. Wiener versions are different from one another, too; apart from the condiments, though, I suspect they're identical) -is an admirable quest; it's too bad Yorkville is gone.

            I had to bother to reply; sorry. And mulling it over further, you might consider posting your query on the Outerboros boards: you're more likely to find your madeleine in Queens -that's for sure.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Phil Ogelos

              I certainly don't fault you for reflecting on this item, so apology isn't really needed. I didn't like telling people "not to bother" replying. So, thanks.

              But go find someone who's lived in Germany: they'll back me up, I promise. And actually, there was little variation in this item throughout Germany when I was there last (1992, alas). The food is a historically recent innovation of immigrant Turks who entered Germany as guest workers after WWII and started making do with foods they had on hand there and that suited the palate of German consumers. (That's why exactly this style of sandwich is not to be found in Turkey itself.) It began in Berlin and radiated out as Turkish families moved around the country. This relation to German rebuilding is why it is so much less common in adjacent European countries (though I did once find basically the real thing in a London hole-in-the-wall shop near the South Kensington tube station).

              "Pide" is what Turks in Turkey call the bread, where it is also usually, characteristically sprinkled with little black nigella seeds. The Germans call it Fladenbrot, which simply means flat bread, but they distinguish it from what we and they call pita bread. The two are no more interchangeable than would be various versions of "pizza crust" in the USA.

              I'm an avid home cook and bread baker, so one of my thoughts of late has been to make the vegetables, sauces and the actual bread myself and then just take it all to a gyro shop where they properly roast the meat, slicing from a vertical spit. Because in fact, any decent meat of that sort would do pretty good service: it's the bread and the fillings (stuff like slightly pickled cabbage, etc.) and the sauces that make this special.

              I even wonder whether I might be able to make the meat properly by using a blow torch! Sounds pretty wild, but in principle, it should work...

              p.s.: finding one's Proustian madeleine in Queens: that should be an indy film!

              1. re: Bada Bing

                I think the closest you'll find in NYC is Turco:



                They make their pita on site and it is probably my favorite pita in the entire city. It is quite different from other fresh and pre-made pita used by any other gyro/doner/shawarma places in the city in that it's almost like a fluffier, less oily Malaysian roti.

                I should note that the last time I was there maybe a month ago their oven was broken and they were forced to use pre-made pita. Hopefully it's up and running again.

                1. re: Humbucker

                  That Turco looks awesome! When one reviewer says the meat is very "lamb-ey," evidently seeing that as a hurdle, I am that much more eager to try it. Actually, and purely coincidentally, I lived in Turkey (Ankara) several years when a young child in the 1960s--Air Force military brat--and mutton was among the things I got accustomed to there.

                  Thanks very much, and I'll report back if I manage to get to Turco and try their stuff. I am taking careful note of the place. Might pick my hotel location on basis of proximity to it!

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    yah that does look pretty damn good

                  2. re: Humbucker

                    Went to Turco today. They were pretty on the ball; bread was great and the doner was so juicy the drippings ran down my hand. My only gripe was that the lamb was considerably saltier than previous visits today. Hopefully it was just a fluke. I experienced a similar jump in saltiness at Bereket a while back that lead me to abandon them for a number of months under they got that under control.

                    1. re: Humbucker


                      edit: I'm not sure why they are flipped on their side.

                      1. re: Humbucker

                        That is seriously good-looking stuff! Thanks for the information and photos. If they rent out rooms above, that's where you'll find me. :)

                2. re: Phil Ogelos

                  "It's clear that "pide" bread is just the German transcription of "pita", and thus its distinctive, more leavened character must come from the water around the military base(s) where you've served."


                  Bada Bing has it right, as well as there being no (regional) differences between a döner in Bonn or Berlin.

                  Good luck in finding your döner-leine, BB!

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Although Dönerlein (as in the diminutive) would be more fitting.

                      Of course, who wants a small döner? Not moi, and likely not you, either :-)

                      All your talk of döners has me craving one. I'll grab one for dinner tonight and let you know if it's still great (these are dürüm-style, so not exactly what you're looking for). I am hopeful.

                  1. re: Phil Ogelos

                    I did a search of the Outer Borough boards, but I agree it might be a good idea to post a query there, as well. The archived threads all were rather old, and none of them really honed in on the issue of a distinctively German style of döner kebab.

                  2. I don't know of anyplace in Manhattan, but check out Vert in Austin, Tx.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: topeater

                      Man, Austin sounds like one great place to be a Chowhound. Like either Portland (ME; OR), I gather.

                      South Bend, Indiana, on the other hand....

                      Well, it's good to know how to cook at home. And we do have an awesome Farmer's Market.

                    2. I don't know about German style Turkish doner kabab, but if you want Turkish-Turkish doner kabab in pide bread, I used to get them all the time at Mangal Kabab in Sunnyside, Queens (Queens Blvd/46th St-ish). Just make sure to specify pide bread because they'll make it in the packaged pita bread if you don't.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: E Eto

                        Had Mangal today, though in regular pita not the home bread. In comparison to Turco, this is more of junk food style doner. Meat was oddly a grainy mush and produce was lackluster. Both were in less generous quantities than Turco, which seems like a gourmet feast in comparison. The pita was falling apart while I was eating, though I won't hold that against the too much since home bread is an option (though there is a surcharge). All that combined with the sloppy construction made it taste strangely like a bowl of beef chili with crackers. Or maybe a tex mex style ground beef soft taco.

                        If this was priced more in line with halal carts ($4 for a pita sandwich), I'd be a fan, because sometimes I crave those junky flavors. However, at a similar price to Turco ($6 for regular pita/$7 with home bread), it won't be entering my regular rotation even though I live only a couple blocks away while Turco is a half an hour away. I may give it another try with home bread some time and report back, but my experience with one of their other home bread sandwiches leads me to believe it won't be a tremendous improvement.

                        Bereket on the LES, for those interested, falls somewhere between Turco and Mangal in ingredient quality, price ($6.50) and size. Probably closer to Turco, as it was once my preferred doner joint.

                        If it's not evident already, I'm a huge gyro/shawarma/doner afficianado. Anyone interested in a Lebanese style chicken shawarma?