In the book Enemies Within, journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman expose the NYPD's secret post-9/11 efforts to spy on Muslim Americans under the pretense of preventing another terrorist attack. Among the department's gross misconduct and civil liberties abuses? Using a White House grant, originally intended for anti-drug investigations, to pay for equipment and services (food, coffee, etc.) as investigators cased mosques, restaurants, and community centers for possible terrorist activity.
One officer who used to be associated with the program admitted that when it came to restaurants, the police sometimes focused their attention on places "with the best food." Kabul Kabab House in Flushing was one of those restaurants.
Disturbing and flagrant abuses of police power aside, the cops got one thing right: Kabul Kabab is a good place to eat. The slender restaurant on Flushing's Main Street can get packed even at early hours, and on a Saturday visit at 6 we already heard waiters quoting a 30 to 45 minute wait for newcomers. Loyal customers return for a mostly grilled menu of meat, poultry, and seafood, all alluringly spiced and grilled over charcoal, then served on massive platters with rice.
You can order combination platters of two kebabs for $24.95 and three for $37.95, prices that sound high until the meaty motherships start landing on the table. Kabul Kabab isn't as cheap some spots, but a three-kebab platter comfortably feeds three to four with plenty of rice left over. The meats are marinated in similar but not identical mixtures rich with spices like cumin and coriander, then grilled hot and fast until they pick up some char.
Some proteins take better to the grill than others. Beef and lamb chops remain juicy and salmon is surprisingly well-cooked, though boneless chicken breast veers toward dry and ground lamb doesn't offer the spicy richness you hope it would.
But all the kebabs, which come in larger-than-average chunks, are delicately smoky and beautifully seasoned with spices that enhance their meatiness without obscuring them. If you need some sauce to moisten things up, there's an unelaborated-upon white sauce that's a dead-ringer for what halal carts serve on the street.
The menu also has a section of kebab-friendly starters and sides like Kashk Badenjan ($6.50), slightly spicy mashed eggplant best slathered over the excellent rice, and crisp, juicy Sambosa ($4.50) pastry pockets filled with beef and sauced with more yogurt. There's also Mantoo ($4.50), little steamed beef dumplings topped with yogurt, though they're less forcefully-flavored than the Sambosa.
Kabul Kabab is BYOB, though the staff may ask you to keep bottles under your seats out of respect for other Muslim customers. But the servers are quick with jokes and advice, determined to make sure you have a good time.
It's not hard to do so here. Kabul Kabab doesn't nail every detail of pro kebabery, but it hits many, turning deceptively simple grilled meat on skewers into a worthy night out.