3023 N Government Way,
Coeur d’Alene, 664-1958
May a moody baby doom a yam.
Evil olive. No lemons, no melon. Desserts I desire not, so long no lost one rise distressed. I love palindromes, words or phrases that read the same forwards and backwards. In a truly cosmic twist of fate, Iranian born chef Babak Haidari’s first name happens to be “kabab” backwards and kababs happen to be Haidari’s calling in life. How about that for a stroke of luck? So, when Babak and his wife Amber, who met while doing charity work in Turkey, decided to fire up the grill and bring his unique family cuisine to lucky Coeur d’Alene, how could they have called it anything other than Babak Kabab? While they do also serve some American fare, a name like “God Toh Hot Dog” just doesn’t have the same sort of memorable ring to it.
Haidari claims that his place is the only spot in the Inland Northwest where one can procure real-deal Persian cooking, and as far as I can tell, there’s no reason to argue. While the quality and authenticity of the food served at Babak Kabab is absolutely top notch and extravagant in flavor, you won’t need to bother breaking out that classy Members Only jacket for a visit. In fact, wear your muumuus and baggy sweatpants. You won’t even need to get out of the car, as Haidari serves his meals from a tiny, drive-by-and-miss-it espresso stand located on Government Way, a few blocks north of Appleway near Lloyd’s Automotive. I turned into the tiny lot and saddled my car up next to the happy little hut.
I could actually smell the mouthwatering scent of sizzling meat permeating the atmosphere around Babak Kebab before I even laid my finger on my power window button. My gaze flitted between the menu and the clutter of signs, biblical quotes, and Arabic writing posted on the sliding window of the little building. I noticed a button next to which was scrawled something like “If your car is too small, I can’t see you. Please ring buzzer.” I wondered if maybe my Mercury Mystique was considered a shorty. I decided to give it a whirl just in case, but before I could do it the window suddenly flew open to reveal Babak’s big smiling face.
He must have sensed my first-timer confusion and offered a suggestion. “The chicken is looking pretty good tonight. Fresh and hot.” I had do do it. “Okay, that’s what I’ll have then, the $7.25 combo with rice.” He smiled and said “Actually, there’s a special discount tonight. It’s $6.99. I’ll be back with that right away.” Wow. In this economy, saving even 26 cents can be a thrill.
While I waited, I had few minutes to absorb the Babak Kabab menu a little more thoroughly. For breakfast with an Iranian flair, the Persian Wrap consists of scrambled eggs tossed with tomatoes and feta cheese. For extra international confusion, they also offer a Mexican breakfast wrap with chili and salsa. The Apple-Pecan pancake roll-ups sound scrumptious and the biscuits and gravy promise to be great, as they almost always are in offbeat places like this.
For lunch and beyond, there are primarily two Persian options, either beef or chicken. “Kubideh” is a ground beef kabab served either in sandwich form as a sort-of wrap or atop white rice. The marinated, grilled chicken is called “Jujeh” and is also served either as a wrap or with rice, with sprinkled feta cheese as an option on both. Babak Kabab also serves less exotic snack shack goodies like chili dogs, chicken quesadillas, pepper bellies and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Of course, a full line of mochas, lattes and other popular coffee drinks are available as well, and I’m sure they make great beverages, but if you come here merely for the coffee you’re truly missing out.
The window slid open again and a still-grinning Babak handed me a steaming Styrofoam box that must have weighed five pounds. Driving home, the heavenly aroma of saffron filled my car and it was all I could do not to pull over in a random parking lot and chow down right there.
Cats have a sixth sense when it comes to good food, and as I walked in the door, both of mine swirled around my heels, meowing like I was carrying a fresh-caught tuna. “Scram!” I yelled as I sat down to eat, but as usual, my anti-feline protestations were completely ignored.
I opened the box to reveal, frankly, a big mess. But what a delightful mess it was. I expected to see actual kebabs, but I guess the skewers are used just for cooking, not presentation. Huge chunks of white chicken were intermingled with tangy tomato bits, all surrounded in fluffy white rice and the whole thing was sloshed with a cucumber/garlic/yogurt sauce similar to Greek tzatziki. Starving, I tore into it and the chicken chunks were tender and juicy beyond belief, spiced through so wonderfully, tears nearly started welling up in my eyes. The delicately flavored rice was a perfect counterbalance and the coolness of the creamy yogurt sauce lent the dish an edge of summer refreshment.
A few bites later I slowly regained consciousness and noticed the cats still buzzing below me, just waiting for me to accidentally drop half-a-speck of food. Yes, I will admit I spoil the beasts, but they don’t normally get to sample my dinner. However, with Babak Kabab’s amazing Jujeh, it was so good I felt guilty for not sharing. I got a small dish and they inhaled what I gave them, appreciatively curling up on the couch where I joined then ten minutes later to laze away my food coma in a state of bliss.