Shish: Kebabs, Kibbeh & Coffee

By Shannon Mills

The latest addition to the Grand Avenue International Dining Experience has surely piqued the curiosity of more than one Macalester student biking by late on a Friday night. With its modish lights, the scent of apple, mint and rose drifting across the street, and its lively sidewalk tableaux— more reminiscent of Paris, Berlin or Cairo than Mac-Groveland— Shish brings a chic, yet still enticing option to the local café scene.

Shish (pronounced “sheesh”) offers an array of Middle Eastern appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, desserts, and coffee drinks. The prompt service and pay-before-you-eat setup is convenient for a quick meal, although it may not give the authentic Middle Eastern dining experience of three hours spent trying to track down your server for the check. At around $11, the entrées on the menu may be a bit pricey for Mac students, but the $5 sandwiches and even cheaper appetizers easily compete in flavor with other local restaurants.
The atmosphere is certainly trendy, with down-tempo Arabic music, muted colors, and Starbucks-ish décor. Shish draws a different crowd than its neighbor Coffee News, attracting lunch hour patrons ranging from ladies-who-lunch to suit-attired businessmen to a handful of Mac students and employees. The evening hookah bar tends toward a post-college atmosphere.

The Turkish coffee is a must for starting your meal. It’s foamy, sugary, with cardamom, plenty of grounds … in a word, mumtaz (great)! The Turkish tea is less of a novelty—the Arab equivalent to Lipton—and a bit weak, so stick with the coffee if you’re in the mood for caffeine and an instant excursion to the streets of Istanbul.
As for appetizers, there’s a decent selection and you could easily make a meal out of two or three. The kibbeh—small squares of baked meat, bulgur and spices—are spicy and delicious, definitely a good choice.
Shish offers a number of sandwiches and wraps, mostly a combination of chicken gyro, meat gyro, and falafel (vegetarian). Falafel connoisseurs may be disappointed in the lack of spices, but as far as Middle Eastern food produced for Americans goes, Shish’s falafel sandwich isn’t bad. The chicken gyro was even blander than the falafel; just a little too “chickeny” with no hint of slow roasting for days on end.

The fries, however, are practically worth the price of the sandwich they come with. Seasoned with a “secret” spice, likely from the onion family (I make no claims on my spice identification expertise), these Middle Eastern delicacies are flavorful and not too greasy.
When it comes to Macalester students, Shish’s greatest competitor may be Black Sea, the inexpensive, homey Turkish restaurant down Snelling. Black Sea’s gyros and prices beat out Shish’s for sure, but the convenience and atmosphere of Shish are a definite draw when grabbing lunch or some late-night honey-dipped sheesha.