For those who have never traveled to or lived in Germany it might seem strange that the country’s most popular hand/fast food isn’t sausage based. But ever since the 1970s Germans have become increasingly obsessed with the Turkish import Döner Kebap, so much so that this decidedly non-traditional food is now preferred to all others…and with good reason. They’re damn good!
From a food construction standpoint, döner are similar to that of pizza, hamburgers, or tacos in America. A base of ingredients, in this case bread and meat, are individualized and enhanced by the marination of the meats and the condiments added.
In Germany the meat selections are commonly chicken, lamb, beef, or turkey with each marinated upwards of 24+ hours in spice mixtures unique to each Döner Laden or shop. In my opinion, it’s the marinade that separates the best döner from the middle of the road. After all, seasoning can make or break any food.
The holsters of the meat are specialty breads, flatbreads, or pitas that are warmed in a panini machine. As for the condiments, I’ve traveled throughout Germany and sampled countless numbers of flavor enhancers for döner ranging from veggies like cabbage, onions, and cucumber to a variety of cheeses to seasoned yogurt and fiery spices. Basically, much like a pizza, burger or taco, you name it and you can add it to a döner…just so long as it tastes good.
Sadly for those of us who have developed a taste for döner, finding an establishment state-side to satisfy our cravings can be a difficult prospect as few places have attempted to import this Turkish/German delight. Thankfully though a few brave souls have decided to set up shop around the country and luckily for me one happens to be located near me: Döner Bistro
Established as a food truck in 2006, Hamburg native Timo Winkel brought his Northern German Döner Kebap flare to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of the nation’s capital in 2012. The shop is an engaging combination of a typical German Döner establishment, along with a trendy Euro “Gemutlichkeit,” traditional Biergarten table seating, completed by a Foosball table and German Radio streaming live from speakers.
Rotating vertical spits of beef or chicken are the base on which customers construct their döner. Also found on the menu are familiar favorites like bratwurst, currywurst, the obligatory schnitzel, falafel, salads, and the brilliant combination of döner meat and fries into the “Dönerbox.” Can you say morning fixer upper???
To wash down your selected food cravings, DB delivers an extensive selection of over 40 German beers (four “vom fass” or on tap) that are honestly some of the best available in the area. Wine and non-alcoholic suds like the German Mezzo Mix and Apfelsaft are available as well, but why pass up on enjoying German beer in proper glassware? To complete those seeking their German fix Winkel has even gone the lengths to provide your sweet tooth with Haribo candy and Milka chocolates.
German Haribo Commercial with the classic phrase “Haribo makes kids happy and adults too”
Naturally the most important question is: does the food live up to the expectations of döner and German street food fanatics? The answer varies.
You see, experiences and expectations of what encompasses a good döner in Germany vary by vender and location. The gold standard to some might be average to others. Personally, I’ve experienced some of the best and some of the most forgettable in Germany and Döner Bistro ranks overall slightly above average.
The marinate for the beef is perfectly acceptable, and preferred. The chicken isn’t offensive, but it could certainly use more gumption to make it stand out against the standard condiments. Additionally, after numerous visits I’ve found the meats to be slightly drier than is usually preferred, though this might have much to do with the fact that apparently DB prepares a leaner form of döner than typically found in Germany. Less fat is definitely better for the waistline but does nothing for retaining moistness and adding flavor to the meat.
The panini-toasted flatbread used is soft, slightly crunchy, and able to hold the weight and sauce of the döner. The condiments work, especially the pickled red cabbage, but the usage of iceberg lettuce conflicts with every döner I’ve ever eaten, as its texture detracts rather than supports the other characters/flavors in play (this admittedly is a personal preference though).
Of the other foods sampled the currywurst is again nothing earth shattering but nonetheless satisfying, though the sauce is more like bbq than curry, reminiscent of a spiced up Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. The house-cut fries fit the bill for those who enjoy double fried spuds with their skins still on and the Dönerbox is a tremendous creation that I wish German establishments had offered me after a long night out on the town.
Overall, Döner Bistro provides exactly what döner lovers in the Washington DC area need…an oasis of Germanness with the basic construction of the country’s fast/street foods. Flavor awards might not be forth coming but this shouldn’t stop anyone from patronizing DB to satisfy their döner fix or for newbies interested in exploring “Döner Kultur.”
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