Karam’s Chicken Shawarma Sandwich is Very Good… With Extra Sauce
Since I started working in Midtown a few months ago, I’ve steered clear of Middle Eastern food for the most part because I’ve got some great places around my Queens neighborhood, and because there seems to be SO MUCH OF IT that the scene is just too daunting to navigate. But recently, one of my coworkers shared that she was “soooooo excited” when she found out the Middle Eastern restaurant Karam (45th btw. 5th and 6th), a favorite from her former digs in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, had a sister restaurant just around the corner. The chicken shawarma is the bomb, she said, and it made the top 101 sandwiches of 2010 by New York Magazine. After this recommendation, I had to give it a shot.
I saw that Clay had written about Karam a few months ago having tried the lahme meshwi, and I thought I’d give it a follow up visit by trying out this noted sandwich. When I arrived, I saw a poster that confirmed the chicken shawarma marinated chicken sandwich had made #28 of the 101 best sandwiches in New York. Not bad. And it beat out Taim Mobile’s falafel along with both expensive and cheap restaurants across all boroughs. Of course all of this is according to New York Magazine. I’m never sure who the judges are in competitions like these, and I question their methods of evaluation. But whatever. It’s fun. And it must be at least be a decent-tasting sandwich to make such a list.
I stopped by somewhat early in the day; around noon. The restaurant wasn’t too crowded yet, but the ordering process was still confusing. Who to order from? I’m not sure. I figured it out although I tried to order from the guy I was supposed to pay, and pay the guy I was supposed to order from. There was a nice seating area, but I had to make my way back to the office.
The first thing I noticed about the sandwich is that it’s big for the $8 price. They included a mild tomato-based hot sauce and something that tasted to me like runny tahini, and described by NY Magazine as a “lemony Lebanese garlic sauce”. I took a few bites without sauce, just to make sure I had an idea of the flavor of the sandwich filling. My first bite was so dry that I hiccuped after I swallowed. This must be what the sauce is for. So, the plain sandwich was dry but tasty. The chicken itself wasn’t too dry, had a nice flavor, and there was LOTS of it. I could taste distinct flavors of parsley and an unknown but lovely bright pink pickled vegetable. I wanted to say it was radish because of the pink color that can be leaked from red skin during pickling, but I didn’t taste much of that telltale radishy bite. Perhaps turnip or jicama (does anyone know)? There was quite a bit of tomato, and a small amount of lettuce but not stuffed in the pita Subway-sandwich-artist-style with the sole purpose of to bulking up the meal on the cheap.
I agree with Clay that the pita bread left something to be desired. I’m not a pita connoisseur, although I do prefer that it is strong enough to hold up throughout the eating experience, rather than spill delicious food all over my shirt and my lap. Toward the end, I had my fingers crossed that the pita’s structural integrity would remain intact, but as I got to the bottom of the sandwich, it started to fail. Boo. That said, I was pretty full by then, and although I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, I couldn’t finish it all in one sitting because it was pretty damn big. The last third of the sandwich became an early evening snack.
And now, enter the sauces. It’s my opinion that the chicken shawarma sandwich at Karam, sans sauces, was just OK. But once you poured on the “hot sauce” (again, nice flavor but not very hot) and the garlic-lemon-tahini sauce, the whole sandwich changes. With the sauces, it’s a very good sandwich. Without the sauces? Not so much. My rec is to order double sauce on the side, especially if you like it sloppy. And if you like pickled food, ask for some more of that pink stuff.
Besides the chicken shawarma sandwich, Karam had many other options. According to the menu on their website (powered by mypizza.com and named Karam II somewhat confusingly), they have quite a few vegetarian and brick oven selections, all well under $10. Perhaps a dish like a mezze platter would be a welcome cure for this sweltering heat.
If there are any Karam lovers out there, either in Midtown or Bay Ridge, give a shout-out. Do you love the chicken shawarma sandwich? Any other items to note? I’d love to try more.
Karam, 25 W 45th Street, 212-354-7400