For my Sunday Column, I made a visit to Sheik Burritos n Kabobs — a hilariously creative Persian-Southwestern fusion burrio restaurant. Yes, I just said that.
A culinary passage made to Jahanland
“This is our flag, ” says an animated Jahan Ostad, pointing to an image of a banner depicted on the incredibly bizarre and hilarious mural that covers a wall of his restaurant. “The Persian flags and the Mexican flag are the same! Both green, white and red stripes. Except the Persian stripes are horizontal, and the Mexican stripes are vertical. So ours are diagonal! And see what we have in the center?”
I look closely at the flag flying from the turret of an Arabian fortress. Underneath, turbaned oil barons patrol the flat-top mesa in Rolls Royces, a camel meanders by a saguaro cactus, and a genie with the face of Barbara Eden and the body of Pamela Anderson’s really curvaceous sister rises from a bottle in a plume of smoke. Inside the central white stripe of the flag is an image of a burrito cleanly bisected by a sword.
“My friends always told me I was such I such a good cook that I needed to open my own restaurant, ” continues Ostad, reaching for an elaborate, curved scimitar he keeps on a shelf. He hops onto a table and strikes a pose with the scimitar so I can take a picture of this self-style sheik of fast-casual food. “So I opened this.”
So what on God’s green earth is this?
Sheik Burritos n Kabobs is the official name of the restaurant. But I like to think of it as the mythical kingdom of Jahanland. It is a place — half Persia, half the American Southwest — that has sprung fully formed from Ostad’s imagination.
Set on Piedmont Road just south of Cheshire Bridge Road, Sheik Burritos n Kabobs consists of a narrow space defined by a row of tables and an eating counter. And that mural. That mural! Artist Tony Price paints with such unabashed vulgarity that you want to stand gape-jawed until Ostad ventures forth from the kitchen.
Take a breath and you will smell quormeh sabzi, a Persian stew of greens (parsley, scallions, fenugreek leaves) cooked to a sludge in a broth perfumed with dried lime. Look over at a table and you will see someone chowing down on a foil-wrapped cylinder as big as a pneumatic bank tube.
“You want a burrito?” asks the affable Ostad. A Washington, D.C., native, he attended Arizona State University, where he developed a huge jones for Southwestern burritos but missed the Persian food his father prepared at home.
After college he found himself in Atlanta, bounced around a few jobs, and ended up tending bar at an upscale chain restaurant.
And throwing dinner parties, where he discovered he had a knack for reproducing the flavors of his dad’s cooking without consulting recipes. When the conversation invariably got around to the restaurant he should open, the concept took shape.
Couldn’t Persian food be as fun, casual and sexy as the fare at a Southwestern burrito joint?
Ostad is pointing at the menu above the counter, which looks exciting but also a bit like a complicated math proof on a blackboard. You order some mysterious something from Column A, and add garnishes and sauces, all of which pun on the names of traditional Persian dishes.
You might want good Wagyu beef, Berkshire pork or tofu. Then you can add the “Bad-Man-Jon” sauce, which contains eggplant and lentils, or the “Feast-n-June” sauce with pomegranate molasses and walnuts. And then you might toss in a “red spinach” salad with beets and feta, among other things. And you can get it wrapped in a tortilla, or a pillowy Persian flatbread. Then again, you might get it “dog style” and all this business comes in a stainless steel bowl that looks quite like a feeding dish.
Dog style? Seriously? Jahan Ostad is quite possibly the goofiest restaurateur in Atlanta.
I get tofu, Bad-Man-Jon sauce, red spinach salad and a Persian flatbread.
Ostad delivers it — an unwieldy tube of cubed things, and gooey things and leafy things, and all kinds of drippy things that immediately want to leave the flatbread. I open wide, I bite and . . . aah.
I’m in the Kingdom of Jahanland. I get it. I’ve never been to this place before, but at first bite I know it instinctively, and I like being here.
Sheik Burritos n Kabobs: 1877 Piedmont Road, 404-815-0227. www.sheikburritos.com