<strong>Rating: 4/5</strong> <strong>Price: $10-$20</strong>
I am a shawarma purist. A lot of my friends know this about me. For instance, my very first food review, ever, was on Mozy’s Shawarma. Whenever a friend approaches the counter with me, they know to choose their dressings carefully, in fear that they may offend me by making ridiculous choices like lettuce. Whenever someone recommends a shawarma place, I instantly feel an eyebrow rise of its own accord, as I ask investigatory questions with unjustifiably high skepticism. I have a strong hatred of joints that say they serve shawarma when in reality, they serve gyros; the list goes on and on.
For the longest time, I strongly believed Mozy’s was the best in Kitchener-Waterloo, even beating Toronto; but when Shawerma Plus entered my crosshairs with its deluge of positive reviews, I simply had to investigate. Could Shawerma Plus steal away the deep-seated throne of Mozy’s from this girl’s heart?
Located on University and King in the same neighbourhood as its competitor, Shawerma Plus sits beside Phil’s, ready to take on the pre-drinking university crowd. Its environment is surprisingly nice and well-lit—a strong contrast to how crowded and dingy Mozy’s is.
Little streamers of charming cut-out paper mosques cascaded from the ceiling, as countless awards lined the walls of the little restaurant. There were also artistically taken photos of Syrian buildings and landmarks, where the owner’s family come from. There was even MBC on TV (basically that one free channel you always get on cable there), which probably excited me more than it should have.
As my friend and I ordered, Jawad, the restaurant owner, stood behind the counter and patiently answered all my questions. He was friendly; it was obvious that he loves what he does, as he and his family worked companionably behind the counter. I already felt a certain level of comfort just from this interaction, as I ordered the student combo of a chicken shawarma “Jawad” style (stuffed with fries, pickles, garlic, and hot sauce). It came with fries and a pop, and I also ordered a shish tawooq platter (basically a chicken shish kebab) with cardamom rice and a fattoush salad.
After that, the orders took about ten minutes to arrive, as my shish tawooq was to be grilled fresh. My friend and I were seated comfortably — a nice change from the helter skelter of Mozy’s frequent line eruptions. When our orders eventually arrived, it was curious that the shish tawooq was so elegantly presented on a real plate whereas the shawarmas appeared on dinky paper ones. However, leaving aside plating choices, the food was actually quite good.
The shish tawooq was well-cooked, the chicken tender with a slightly charred flavour from the grill, accompanied by fragrant and fluffy cardamom rice decorated with parsley. The fattoush salad was also interesting; a rather sour salad, its dressing probably could have been a bit lighter on the vinegar. However, it was good accompanied by the tomato and crisp pita bread.
Finally, the pièce de résistance, the chicken shawarma: a smaller and lighter alternative to Mozy’s, the ingredients were fresher and less greasy, therefore more indicative of what I was used to back home. Stuffed with tender chicken and fries, it could have used a bit more of everything else.
The hot sauce’s variety was new to me, and had an interesting twang I didn’t expect that detracted from the garlic sauce. Finally, the fries were unfortunately nothing special, being of the frozen variety that both Mozy’s and this restaurant could do better without.
In the end, I found Shawerma Plus to be an enjoyable experience. Aside from the food, there’s something about the atmosphere itself that reminds me of the best parts of home: the kindness and hospitality that can found in the Middle East.
As I finished up my meal, Jawad walked by, clearly also ready to leave for the night, bundled up in his Blue Jays cap and jacket. But before he left, he turned the television towards a little boy planking on the sofa, and changed it to a kid’s channel to entertain him. Something about that moment, their service, and their food made me smile, which is why I’d be more than willing to return to Shawerma Plus.