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Restaurant Reviews - Sept 2006

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ShishKebab House of Tucson                                              

Searching for new, improved and more interesting places to eat lunch the other day, we were bouncing around on the Internet to check out some options when we came across a review that told us that the ShishKebab House over on Broadway shouldn't be missed. The woman described the place as family owned and friendly, noting that they served the "best hummus she'd ever had." Now, as it happens, we make quite a bit of hummus here at the staff offices and thought we had pretty much perfected the dish so we are always eager to sample other recipes. And "family owned and friendly" sounded like the kind of qualities we like to support with our food dollar as well. So, having business in an office park nearby one Wednesday noon, we decided it would be a good time to drop by the establishment and give it a try. We were ready to be impressed and hoped to add some flavors of the Mideast to our dining out rotation. Instead, we left frustrated and unsatisfied with no memory of how the food even tasted.

As we arrived, in this case the we being a man, woman and a one year old child, the first thing we noticed was that the Shish Kebab House wasn’t much of a house at all but merely a space on the end of a strip mall. Maybe we should have been alarmed at the fact that there wasn't any lunch rush either since only a couple other diners were present at high noon midweek but we didn't think anything of it as we stepped through doors. We were greeted by a languid and washed out looking blonde girl with a stud in her nose who seemed half asleep and obviously wasn't part of the expected family owned dynamic. "Three?" she inquired dully. "You can sit anywhere." She waved an arm in the general direction of the room and went away. We had never been called "three" before since one of us weighs only 20 pounds and requires assisted seating so we stood there for a moment looking around. Finally we spotted a high chair off in the corner that one of us was able to grab and carry over our heads to a table near the back. The blonde girl had disappeared and there didn't seem to be anyone else working unless the guy in the apron sitting playing intently on his cell phone in the middle of the restaurant was an employee. We got settled in and eventually, the girl reappeared and wandered over to take our order. We chose the aforementioned hummus and some meat filled pastries for appetizers and ordered a couple falafel and schwarma plates for the main dish. The girl thanked us and again disappeared into the back. We chatted and looked around at the décor while enjoying the sitar music being piped in.

We weren't in a big hurry or anything but we had started looking around in confusion well before the girl returned with our appetizers twenty minutes later. They were accompanied by a few barely warm pitas and the hummus had a small tomato wedge in the middle but other than that it all looked pretty ordinary. We couldn’t fathom what had taken so long and thought maybe they make each batch of hummus from scratch here at the House which is why it is so famous. Regardless however, a twenty-minute chunk out of anyone's lunch hour just waiting for simple appetizers to arrive is not going to work for most people. We shrugged it off and dug in hungrily before the pitas went completely cold.

Hummus, for those that don't know, is typically comprised of four ingredients. Chick peas, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. One might add any number of different additional spices to provide subtle flavor adjustments but basically a manipulation of the amount of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil added to taste with the chick peas is all it takes to make your hummus the best hummus that you've ever had. A complete pureeing is also required to create the creamy effect but it's not a complicated dish to make which is why we have it so often around The Goliard. It can be served with pita bread, French bread, regular bread, carrot sticks, or just about anything that you might want to dip in a source of some additional tasty protein.

And although we enjoyed our hummus at the Shish Kebab House, a hummus which, in the final analysis, was creamier than most but a little on the bland side, it was a hummus that was a far cry from the "best hummus ever." Since we had been sitting for so long however, in hungry anticipation, we had scraped this particular hummus dish dry and finished our little pastry thingies in short order as well. At that point, with our appetites sufficiently whetted for our main course, we figured that the ball was rolling and we'd be eating the rest of our meal forth with and be out of this non house, shish house within an hour so one of us could make their afternoon meetings and the other two could catch their afternoon naps. By the time we got our food nearly thirty minutes later however, we were no longer in the mood for it and the one of us with the meeting could manage only to take a few quick bites before leaving the food sitting there and racing across town back to work.

This is not an exaggeration. One hour after we had placed our initial order, the girl sashayed over with our main dish. She apologized for the delay, although obviously not because it had seemed a particularly lengthy wait in her spacey world but more because she could tell we were mildly irritated. She was then gone again. No drink refills, no offers of more pita bread, no check back to see if the two of us that remained at the table needed anything else. It's hard to tell in hindsight whether the food was good or not but it didn't seem particularly memorable or tasty in any way. Falafel is about as difficult to make as hummus and the schwarma was fine although certainly nothing worth waiting the hour that it evidently takes them to prepare it.

The whole scene, in fact, was a bit surreal and puzzling. We suppose if the same meal was served quickly and for a cheap price, like in one of the places you find near most college campuses, then we would have had a different opinion of the place and quite possibly returned anytime we got a craving for a little mideastern flair. However, since Shish Kebab House is located over on Broadway and must cater to the business lunch crowd, this seems like a business that should be out of business fairly soon. Perhaps the dinner scene is different or they were just having a bad day that day but we're not going to return to find out. We saw no sign of the friendly and family owned aspect either unless the guy in a dirty apron who was leaning on a wall outside barking into a cell phone qualifies. It can be annoying waiting a long time for a meal under the best circumstances like, say, when a place is crowded and clearly understaffed or when there is some other explanation for the delay but to sit in an empty restaurant and watch basically nothing happen over an hour's time is the type of frustrating experience we have not had in recent memory. If someone else visits the ShishKabob House and has a more satisfying meal, feel free to let us know and we’ll be glad to publish it. We won't be stopping in for a follow up ourselves.

One visit to that place was enough.

Shish Kebab House of Tucson
 5855 E Broadway Blvd # 118
Tucson, AZ 85711
(520) 745-5308

Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved.