Ann About Town: Discovering Sparty’s Kabob

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Photo courtesy of Sparty's Kabob.

Sparty's Kabob is located at 930 Trowbridge Rd. in East Lansing.

If you’ve been a foodie pretty much all your life, and traveled widely, being culinarily astonished is kind of a unicorn after a certain point. You have a favorite local hummus. You have eaten fondue in Switzerland, and you share the sad awareness that much of the international cuisine we see around us is transformed from its unique and vibrant essence to “something Americans will like.”

My first meal from Sparty’s Kabob on Trowbridge Road was . . . astonishing. I’ve never had Iraqi food, and my husband (henceforth “Captain Carnivore”) hasn’t, either. To be honest, when I looked at the menu and selected items for our delivery order, I imagined that it would be pretty much ordinary Middle Eastern Food, which is lovely, but not particularly earth-shattering in a town that can boast several fine Middle Eastern restaurants. The menu looked limited (chicken, lamb, vegetarian options) and the dishes were mostly familiar. I also thought it was a little weird that an Iraqi restaurant was offering Tandoori Chicken, but the whole point of the experiment was to keep an open mind.

Let me add here that based on its Facebook account, Sparty’s Kabob offers food buffet-style when there isn’t a pandemic, and several of the reviews speak of the generosity and passion of the owner about explaining the Iraqi dishes to newbies. I look forward to the day when The Captain and I can actually visit Sparty’s Kabob, I can ask all my questions about how things are prepared and the origins of various dishes, but until then, I’m making educated guesses. I’m hoping readers who know more than I do will tell me where I’m wrong.

Neither of us eats lamb (because we are total hypocrites, and I grew up eating my mother’s deliciously garlicky leg of lamb, but there it is), so we ordered chicken-based meals. For main entrees, the Captain ordered the “Mixed Grill Plate,” which came with four pieces of chicken (he chose Tandoori), hummus and beans. I requested “Sparty’s Regular” with two chicken kabobs and kabsa, described on the internets as something like Biryani, an Indian dish of rice and marinated chicken or lamb.

Because I do have a favorite local hummus, I ordered a side portion of Sparty’s, to see how it compared, as well as a couple of dishes that intrigued me:  Eggplant Salad, and Pasta Salad. I knew the Eggplant Salad was not just another name for Babaganoush, because that’s also on the menu.

Back to the whole “astonishing.” The hummus has bumped my previous favorite from its position. It’s standard chickpea-tahini-garlic-olive oil-lemon hummus (I think), but with no sharpness or acidity. It’s mellow hummus, and tastes of chickpeas, excellent olive oil, and (mysteriously) European butter. The pita bread quarters that accompanied the hummus were pretty standard, but when the hummus is that good . . . who cares?

Fres hummus (Photo courtesy of Sparty’s Kabob.)

My kabobs were not what I expected, which was chunks of chicken on a skewer. These were a combination of ground or shredded meat and spices, more like gyro meat or a doner kabob, and in one long piece rather than chunks. They were tender, full of flavor, and juicy. There’s nothing wrong with the chunks-on-a-skewer variety of kabobs (and from a look at the website, it appears they are also available), but it will be hard for me not to keep ordering this version.

My meal came with kabsa, which was again, not the mild, rich, biryani-like rice I was expecting. It was spicy, and instead of meat it included beans similar to pinto beans. I’m not sure if the kabsa was just the rice and the beans were a separate dish (things happen to food during delivery), but even if they were meant to be separate, they were really good mixed up and eaten with bites of chicken.

A plate of delicious Iraqi food. (Photo courtesy of Sparty’s Kabob.)

Captain Carnivore ordered the plate with Tandoori, and received a huge portion (for $15.99) of chicken along with hummus, beans, and salad. The meal would easily have fed two people, and he said (and a bite confirmed) that the Tandoori was fall-off-the bone tender. The pasta salad was unlike any I’ve had before; it had beans and other vegetables in it, and the sauce was much lighter than the standard mayonnaise-heavy version. I tasted, maybe, some yogurt or sour cream, and a hint of sweetness. The Captain (who doesn’t really like any pasta salad) wasn’t a fan, but I thought it was a nice surprise.

The star of the show, though, was the eggplant salad. I am sure there was roasted eggplant, along with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, with the softness of the first three contrasting with the crispness left in the peppers. This was all enrobed in a kind of sweet and sour dressing, that probably involves some vinegar and something sweet like pomegranate molasses or plain old sugar. It was tangy, light, and so good that I had to refrain from licking the container (until I was alone in the kitchen). If you order nothing else, even if you think you don’t like eggplant, order that salad.

Freshly made eggplant salad. (Photo courtesy of Sparty’s Kabob.)

In addition to having really good and interesting food at very reasonable prices, Sparty’s is a good choice for vegetarians, vegans, people with gluten or dairy sensitivities, and children. There’s a whole section of the menu devoted to vegan options, including a “regular” and a “special” vegan plate with your choice of grain, falafel, grape leaves or vegan kabobs, and salad, hummus, grilled veggies, or bean stew. Kids’ Plates feature a salad, one kabob/Tandoori/grilled chicken, and fries.

This is also a great place if you’re eating keto. Skip the grains and focus on chicken or lamb and some Iraqi or Greek Salad. If you’re REALLY not eating keto, take a look at the dessert offerings, including baklava, cheesecake, something called Konafa that appears to combine both sweetness and cheesiness, and a rolled pastry called Klecha, which according to Google is “sometimes considered the national cookie of Iraq.” Someday we will go on a ten-mile hike and then sample one of each.

Sparty’s Kabob is fairly new, local, and (in my opinion) good. Really good. It’s also a place that will let you feed a family healthy, hand-cooked food for around what it costs to eat at McDonald’s. Our plan is to keep ordering for delivery and pickup until the day we can go in, peruse the buffet, and find out what’s in that amazing eggplant salad.

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