Vertskebap is the new fast-casual import from Austin with several bare-bones locations in Houston specializing in doner kabobs, the Turkish version of roasted meet cut from a spinner and placed in bread pocket as was introduced to Germany by Turkish immigrants. Doner kabobs are not unlike the shawarmas from the Levant and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Greek gyros.
The offerings at Vertskebap are straightforward and focused. Customers have the choice of a roasted lamb-beef mixture or chicken each from a spinner displayed behind the counter, a vegetable patty or falafel; these are placed inside a pita-like bread, the most popular option, a tortilla or on a bed of lettuce and then adorned with a choice of among ten vegetables (including grilled for an extra charge) and topped with one of five sauces. For sides and drinks, there are made-to-order fries, chips, soda, ice coffee on tap and beer. That’s nearly it.
After three visits to two different locations of Vertskebap, unfortunately, I found that their kabobs were generally bland and boring; slivers of mediocre meat sitting in a cardboard-tasting, soft-textured bread among an array of forgettable accompaniments. The only saving move, which I discovered on my last visit, was to have the order doused in their Hot Sauce, with some Garlic Sauce squeezed in, too, along with selecting pickled jalapeños among the vegetables. It made the sandwich much more enjoyable, but nearly just one note in terms of flavor.
The beef-lamb mixture cut from the familiar gyro-like cylinder was noticeably a tad dry on my second visit. Neither of the two orders of it was it enjoyably flavorful. The chicken was no great shakes, either. More disappointing was the bread, which would have been better if it was entirely tasteless. The company’s website describes it as something that is a little different in practice: “Our Turkish-style, partially leavened pide bread is grilled to order. Vegan, low calorie and trans fat-free, it's crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and won’t get soggy like sandwich bread.” Maybe that bread is very similar to what is used in Berlin for these types of kabobs, but it is easily the worst-tasting bread wrapping I have encountered outside of Jack in the Box or Burger King in quite some time. “Cardboard-like” was the best food adjective I could come up with to describe its taste.
There was little of the freshness or vibrancy, much less the flavor at Vertskebap, that you will find in shawarmas at pretty much any good shawarma purveyor in Houston – Zabak’s, Café Lili, Shawarma King, Jerusalem Halal Deli, or Phoenicia, for example – or the gyros at Niko Niko’s. Or any of the food at Istanbul Grill in Houston, long one of the best dining bargains in Houston. Importantly, also, is that the bread wrapping at each of these other restaurants – which is either sourced locally at a bakery like Abdullah’s or made in house – is likely much fresher and certainly far better tasting than at Vertskebap.
Had Vertskebap been around when I when I writing my Houston Dining on the Cheap guidebooks, it would certainly not have come close to warranting inclusion in its present form. And, I had hopes for the concept, as there are two locations close to my office, both closer than any Middle Eastern or Greek restaurant, but nein.
However, if you think of Vertskebap as another option for fast-food, albeit not quite as fast but pricier than the typical fast-food joint, you might not be disappointed in the taste. And if you think of it as fast-food that serves good local and regional beer (Saint Arnold Lawnmower, Karbach Hopadillo and Live Oak’s creditable Hefeweizen), you might actually like it.