163 Main Street, Burlington, 862-5752
If you're a poor student or just pretending to be one, there's no place quite like Ahli Baba's Kabob Shop. The place started as a food truck outside the University of Vermont — how much more "college" can your food get? And clearly, the folks at Ahli Baba's are hardy souls: The tiny eatery was one of the only places open downtown in last night's snow deluge.
I hadn't eaten at Ahli Baba's for almost a decade — when I was college-student age. Though the interior was unchanged, there were a few new pitas available. I ordered a pair of them, the chicken curry and souvlaki ones, to be exact, and my old standard falafel salad (right).
Ah, Ahli Baba's falafel. How I missed your crunchy whole chickpeas, your earthy cumin and hint of lemon. Last night, the taste was there, but the balls were slightly undercooked. The middle was close to the texture of peanut butter.
A welcome change was the addition of homemade, herbaceous hummus. Its ample tang made up for the brightness that the mild tzatziki lacked. The thick spread made a surprisingly enjoyable dressing for the fresh lettuce, tomato and onion.
I had heard good things about the souvlaki pita (right). The thin slices of lemon-and-garlic-marinated pork were pleasantly juicy and slightly pink. The veggies were crisp and the pita suitably chewy. However, something about the pork tasted bitter, maybe even a little bit burnt. I so wanted to love that sandwich, but that one unpleasant note left me instead at "like."
The chicken-curry pita was a unique creation. Whereas most of the dishes on the menu strive for Mediterranean flavors, this one borrows from Jamaica. That's right, Jamaica. I was expecting a taste of the Indian subcontinent, but the curry's flavors were much closer to those from the Caribbean.
The mildly sweet curry left a welcome hint of heat at the back of my throat. Peppers and carrots were a nice addition to the flavor. Tzatziki, or, in that case, raita, had a cooling effect, but with the saucier chicken and veggies, it also contributed to a classic Ahli Baba's mess.
It's all part of a Burlington culinary touchstone. If you live in the Queen City and you've never had tzatziki sauce running down your sleeve, you're doing something wrong. While I'm probably not going to hurry back for another taste immediately, I'm glad to know that Ahli Baba's is there, through rain or snow or dark of night.
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