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Döner Kebab--German-Style

Bada Bing Jun 29, 2013 01:15 PM

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:

http://www.chowstatic.com/uploads/4/9...

  1. k
    kathryn Jun 29, 2013 01:47 PM

    Is this the type?
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2011/11/a-sandwich-a-day-doner-kebab-at-bereket-turki.html

    Maybe this place?
    http://www.donerco.com/

    6 Replies
    1. re: kathryn
      Bada Bing Jun 29, 2013 01:54 PM

      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
        p
        pravit Jun 29, 2013 03:38 PM

        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
          Bada Bing Jun 29, 2013 04:31 PM

          Which place?

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

          1. re: pravit
            t
            tex.s.toast Jul 1, 2013 12:10 PM

            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
              p
              pravit Jul 1, 2013 03:06 PM

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

              1. re: pravit
                t
                tex.s.toast Jul 2, 2013 07:55 AM

                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. linguafood Jun 29, 2013 02:12 PM

          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
            Bada Bing Jun 29, 2013 02:44 PM

            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. Phil Ogelos Jun 30, 2013 04:45 AM

            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
              Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 05:56 AM

              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
                h
                Humbucker Jun 30, 2013 08:29 AM

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

                http://midtownlunch.com/2012/07/11/seamless-roulette-leads-me-to-awesome-turkish-food-at-turco/

                http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/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
                  Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 11:24 AM

                  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
                    l
                    Lau Jun 30, 2013 11:34 AM

                    yah that does look pretty damn good

                  2. re: Humbucker
                    h
                    Humbucker Jul 13, 2013 08:33 PM

                    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
                      h
                      Humbucker Jul 13, 2013 08:36 PM

                      Pictures:

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

                       
                       
                      1. re: Humbucker
                        Bada Bing Jul 14, 2013 06:55 AM

                        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
                  linguafood Jun 30, 2013 10:53 AM

                  "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."

                  No.

                  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: linguafood
                    Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 11:29 AM

                    Döner-leine. Love it.

                    1. re: Bada Bing
                      linguafood Jun 30, 2013 01:49 PM

                      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.

                  2. re: Phil Ogelos
                    Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 04:02 PM

                    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.

                  3. t
                    topeater Jun 30, 2013 09:18 AM

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

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: topeater
                      Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 11:40 AM

                      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. E Eto Jun 30, 2013 09:27 AM

                      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
                        h
                        Humbucker Jul 14, 2013 01:55 PM

                        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?

                      2. linguafood Jun 30, 2013 03:43 PM

                        Here's a link to the SC place:

                        http://www.yelp.com/biz/penn-kebab-st...

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: linguafood
                          linguafood Jun 30, 2013 05:09 PM

                          Just returned. Forget it. Not worth a detour.

                          There is hardly any resemblance to the döner you seek, nor to the dürüm-style döner to which I had generously compared the flatbread they make. The flatbread is nice, yes, but the döner looked like your usual, US-American "gyro meat", the yogurt sauce is severely lacking in garlic, the salad selection isn't right (no pickled cabbage, for example), and the "hot" sauce isn't.

                          Wah.

                          1. re: linguafood
                            Bada Bing Jun 30, 2013 05:32 PM

                            Bummer!

                            1. re: Bada Bing
                              jon Jun 30, 2013 06:16 PM

                              I spent a summer in Venice once, eating doner from little stands almost every day.

                              Assuming the German versions are similar, the best I've been able to find are at Ali baba on 34th between 2nd and 3rd. Comes on a tasty pide. However, I think they only serve them at lunch.

                              Not as good as the Viennese version, but pretty good.

                              1. re: jon
                                Bada Bing Jul 12, 2013 05:43 AM

                                I thought I'd already replied to your post here, but I don't see it, soo...

                                It so happens that I spent a week or so in Venice, Italy, last month, and indeed I did come across a hole-in-wall place that made something very close to the German style. The fillings were very much like that, but it was different in having a regular pita kind of bread (though very good and fresh) and it came in the form of a roll rather than a filled triangular pocket of bread. But from a taste standpoint, it was very gratifying. I talked with the operator and he knew exactly what I was talking about in the German thing.

                        2. s
                          shoo bee doo Jun 30, 2013 07:03 PM

                          I've had great doner kabobs at the Naschmarkt in Vienna. Now I'm wondering if they are derived from the Berlin version or if they are something else. I'm in Minnesota and have been on a similar quest.

                          1. p
                            pravit Jun 30, 2013 08:05 PM

                            As an aside, whenever I had pide in Turkey, it was always a pizza-like concoction. Sort of like a thin pizza with spiced meat but no sauce or cheese. I could never tell the difference between pide and lahmacun, but they were both mighty tasty. Anyone know of a good place in Manhattan to eat these?

                            As for German-style doner, it's been almost 9 years since I had one in Berlin, so my memory is a bit too hazy to judge properly. But Turco's is probably the best I've had in Manhattan. I wouldn't make a special trip to Midtown for it, but I'd order it on Seamless again.

                            1. Bada Bing Jul 25, 2013 09:39 AM

                              I happened to see on TripAdvisor that a place called 53rd & 6th Halal (or Halal Guys) is a midtown favorite, evidently a street stand with three locations. I gather this isn't German style, but does anyone know if I should call a must-try if I like great gyros?

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Bada Bing
                                k
                                kathryn Jul 25, 2013 09:40 AM

                                The Famous Halal Guys are known best for their chicken and lamb over rice with “white sauce” and very, very spicy hot sauce.
                                http://midtownlunch.com/category/53rd...

                                1. re: kathryn
                                  Bada Bing Jul 25, 2013 09:54 AM

                                  Thanks! Interesting about the impostor cart. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no? Also mercenary, in this instance.

                                  1. re: Bada Bing
                                    chompchomp Jul 25, 2013 10:14 AM

                                    People love the halal guys. It's fine. And greasy.

                                    1. re: Bada Bing
                                      b
                                      Bkeats Jul 25, 2013 10:44 AM

                                      I tried to post before but it didn't take. The halal cart comes nowhere close to a good doner kebab. Its a plate of street meat on rice. Not bad, but if you are comparing to doner, it will be a severe let down. So unless you are planning on seeking out street eats, I would say its not worth it. I say that even though I probably get a plate every other month or so for lunch.

                                  2. re: Bada Bing
                                    JungMann Jul 25, 2013 01:59 PM

                                    What you get at the food carts is not comparable at all to döner or gyros. It's its own genre of street food: highly seasoned chicken or lamb, griddled on a greasy flat top and served with yellow rice, iceberg lettuce salad and an addictive combination of mysterious "white sauce" and hot sauce.

                                    1. re: Bada Bing
                                      h
                                      Humbucker Jul 25, 2013 04:52 PM

                                      53rd/6th is an interesting contrast to Turco.

                                      Turco is probably the most refined doner I've had in NYC, what with the house-made bread, quality produce, and not very (usually) salty meat with distinct layers of fat and flesh.

                                      53rd/6th meanwhile, is the most junk food-y version of street meat I've had in the city, but not necessarily in a bad way. You see, a lot of street meat vendors have sauces or seasonings that have middle-eastern or south asian flavors going on. Maybe their chicken is stained yellow because of a marinade that includes turmeric, or perhaps their hot sauce has a heavy cilantro component.

                                      53rd/6th, on the other hand has a flavor profile that is not too far off from American fast food. The gyro meat they use is minced into small greasy nubbins, giving it a texture similar to hamburger meat. The chicken is pale with mild spicing. To me, the dominant textures and tastes in a 53rd/6th gyro sandwich are pasty steamed pita, iceberg lettuce, hot sauce and abundant mayo (which is basically what their white sauce is). You could almost see a place like Jack in the Box selling this stuff alongside their burgers and gringo tacos. To a lot of people, this probably sounds highly unappetizing, but for me, sometimes it hits the spot. Sometimes I want the clean, "upscale" flavors of Turco, while other times I want the straight ahead junky-ness of 53rd/6th.

                                      I will say that I think the 53rd/6th guys are highly over-recommended and that tourists would be better off going to one of the more typical halal carts like Rafiqis that offers more interesting toppings and sauces and a more interesting chicken marinade.

                                      1. re: Humbucker
                                        Bada Bing Jul 25, 2013 05:22 PM

                                        Thanks, Humbucker and JungMann. It's starting to sound like a place I won't try unless I stumble on it at just the right time. Abundant mayo does not sound like something I crave, at least in that context. Now with potato salad, we're talking another thing.

                                        1. re: Bada Bing
                                          l
                                          Lau Jul 25, 2013 11:38 PM

                                          honestly i find it delicious and i dont think rafiqis holds a candle to it (meat is dry and bland)...its junky drunk food just to be clear, but i think its really tasty (make sure to get chicken + lamb with white sauce + hot sauce with a pita cut up on top of it)

                                    2. m
                                      mrnyc Jul 29, 2013 03:50 AM

                                      a previous incarnation of the turkish place below my bldg used these thicker, delicious pitas you are describing. whoa the pain of recalling those happier days lol! we talk about it them all the time. they got them daily from a bakery in nj. unfortunately, the current owners use the horrible thin grocery store pitas. i asked and they admitted the good pitas were too expensive. :(

                                      fwiw they often, but not always, used the crappy pitas in instanbul too.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mrnyc
                                        t
                                        tex.s.toast Jul 29, 2013 07:23 AM

                                        Turco has the great bread down.

                                        Was surprised by the popularity of baguette-style bread for a variety of sandwiches (including doner) in Istanbul.

                                      2. Bada Bing Aug 17, 2013 09:48 AM

                                        Report here that I ended up trying Turco's lamb sandwich. It wasn't really the german thing at all, but the pide bread was excellent and the vegetable ingredients were excellent. The lamb was also juicy and well presented, although I found it a bit under-salted (that contrasting with Humbucker's experience above).

                                        The sandwiches were huge, and I should have just split one with my son. As travelers, we weren't in a position to make good use of leftovers. Thanks for all the input, everyone.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Bada Bing
                                          h
                                          Humbucker Aug 17, 2013 12:17 PM

                                          For the record, how does the German doner differ from what you had at Turco?

                                          1. re: Humbucker
                                            linguafood Aug 17, 2013 02:02 PM

                                            Sure BB will get back to ya, but this is what a German döner kebab usually looks like:

                                            http://static.flickr.com/24/57459806_...

                                            1. re: linguafood
                                              h
                                              Humbucker Aug 17, 2013 03:20 PM

                                              Hmm.. Superficially at least, that looks about the same as what turco offers.

                                            2. re: Humbucker
                                              Bada Bing Aug 17, 2013 05:20 PM

                                              linguafood's picture is a great start. Relative to the German style, Turco had a higher proportion of meat (relative to vegetable) than the German ones. You get a stronger sense in Germany of the "salad" element. It was also just frankly huge, relative to the German style. Also, the bread, while delicious, was just a bit breadier than the German style, although still very good and much preferable to the bland mass-produced pitas that one usually sees here. Also, I think there is a slightly sweet element even to the hot sauce in the German style which was lacking in the hot red sauce at Turco. But as I think about it, the slight extra sweetness in the German style might also derive from the treatment of the cabbage.

                                              These distinctions might seem minor, but the issue is really one of balance and fine differences, like most of Mediterranean-style cooking.

                                              If I lived near Turco, I'd frequent it but plan on splitting the sandwich or taking some home. It's one of the best gyro shops I've seen in the States.

                                          2. j
                                            jnanakorn Sep 14, 2013 04:35 AM

                                            I have to say, I live abroad and I have stayed about 3 months in Germany, and lived in Italy and Spain, Korea, USA, and now living in Thailand, and have eaten it in Serbia, Bali, etc you get where im going and I have been known also for a person seeking doner kebab, and i have to say nothing has been as good as the Tukish Doner Kebab, Spanish - Style. Nothing combined it all together like that. The Doner KEbab in Madrid, Spain has been withought a doubt, for me, the best I have had, and the second best was the I recently had in Beograd, Serbia, but he was greek. The German style ones, I guess are about 3rd or 4th of my list, although good, not as good as in Madrid or in Serbia.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jnanakorn
                                              Bada Bing Sep 14, 2013 04:43 AM

                                              Sounds interesting. But can you say what characterizes these styles (Spanish, Serbia) and also whether they are regional or instead specific to an establishment?

                                              1. re: Bada Bing
                                                j
                                                jnanakorn Sep 14, 2013 05:03 AM

                                                The doner kebab, in a technical terms is made the same way... but I have to say that in each country that I have ate it in... the White Sauce... still dont know the exact name...... but the white sauce has never had the same taste, and the mix of the red sauce, which in some of the countries were the same, except in serbia but the change wwas nice. So the mix of the white sauce in Madrid, compared to the white sauce in all other countries...which was blander, didnt compliment or bring out the taste of a food that you just crave or you compare when you go to other countries... im not sure that if the Turkish Kebab in Madrid, or in Spain for that matter, used a fake white sauce or a more traditional white sauce but for me... as in tasting doner kebab in so many countries is what made it for me.. so to sum up... the red and white sauce.. when spreaded on the kebab and then mixed when entering the your mouth produced an unforgettable taste that after 10 years i still only crave that specific one. A side note.. the doner kebab... sandwhiches , if you can call them sandwhichs (what do you call them).. were served in a greater quantity, better said were bigger sandwhiches that i had in other countries, except serbia... all other countries gave small portions, the one in Beograd was an unbelievable size..because normally i can eat two, i could not eat two of these, i didnt know the price as i was visiting and my friend bought it for me.

                                            2. j
                                              jnanakorn Sep 14, 2013 04:40 AM

                                              On that Note, there is a fast -casual restaurant opening up on the west coast called Kebab Madrid, because I see all these people are form the east coast. It will be Turkish Doner Kebab, spanish style, for those who have traveled, they know the fast food likliness of the restaurant. if your on the west coast, arizona, it heard its coming soon

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