There's a stretch of Charles Street in the Midtown Belvedere neighborhood that, because it's close to the University of Baltimore, and not so far from the Maryland Institute College of Art, seems to attract reliable delis and pizza places, mainstays like Oriole Pizza, Viccino's and Jay's.
A few months back, Kabob Place joined them, moving into the corner spot where a Subway used to be. It's a clean and cool spot, just below ground level. Customers come in and order their food at the counter, and hang around until it gets packed into containers.
There are tables provided for dining, but I think most people are taking their food away. The warm-colored dining area isn't unattractive, but it's not much more than functional and isn't very welcoming.
Kabob Place sounds like it's going to be Middle Eastern food. But it's more like Indian, with a heavy menu presence of things familiar to Western diners from the buffet table, items like chana masala, palak paneer and chicken pakora.
I'm not really sure where in the world the kabobs on the menu are from, and for its part, Kabob Place doesn't claim it's one thing or another. Of course, cuisines collide with each other all the time, even before they end up sharing room at your local carryout with gyros, fish fillets and carrot cake. If it's all good, no one cares.
And there are a few very good options here. The first thing listed on the menu is the lamb kabob, and, accompanied by a small side salad, plentiful basmati rice, and a side vegetable, it makes for a filling and satisfying meal. The cubed lamb itself is tender and tasty, seasoned mildly. The spicing is consistently mild at Kabob Place, except for the dhania (cilantro) chutney that accompanied the fried appetizers, which had a nice bite to it.
Among the vegetable sides, the chana masala, the classic curried preparation of chickpeas, is the clear standout. Available also as a $5.99 entr?e, it's one of the better inexpensive vegetarian dishes available in the neighborhood.
Kabob Place's version of the popular buffet staple palak paneer is as rich and silky as it should be, but you might miss seeing cubes of fresh cheese. The daal (lentils) and mixed vegetable are tasty, too, just maybe a little creamy for summertime eating. It didn't look too promising in the carryout container, but the shrimp tikka masala turned out to be pretty good, with bright flavor in its mild, not overly creamy, sauce.
A few dishes I found less satisfying. I liked the clean and simple idea of the fish kabob, a dish made with tandoor-cooked salmon. But the salmon flavors and tandoor spices got lost among many tomatoes and bell peppers.
The inexpensive vegetable pakora (fritters), when they're fried long enough, are delicious, but the chicken pakora is like fast food made for children.
Homemade rice pudding, kulfi, and cheesy rasmali are sometimes available for dessert, and mango lassi is a soft drink option. Kabob Place doesn't serve beer or wine, and bringing it in isn't an option. Kabob Place also a menu of submarines, sandwiches and gyros, the gyro meat sliced to order, which will help it compete for the lunch and late-night crowds.
There is a $6.99 lunch special, basically the same entre-and-side set-up as at dinner, which sounds like a good deal.
There are a few consistency issues here, both with food and service. Something that tastes super-fresh one night might turn out dry a few nights later, and the counter service can be warm or very chilly, depending on who's working. Still, the neighborhood seems to be patiently supporting Kabob Place; it's filled a niche.
Address: 1301 N. Charles St.
Open: 11 am.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Master card, VISA, AMEX
Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Atmosphere: ** (2 stars)
Service: ** (2 stars)
[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]
On the menu
* Lamb kabob - $9.99
* Fish kabob - $8.99
* Shrimp tikka masala - $9.99
* Chana masala - $5.99
* Meat samosa - $1.99
* Vegetable pakora - $1.99
* Kashmiri naan - $2.99
* Rice pudding - $2.99
* Mango lassi - $1.99