Looking for a good place to eat in one of the retail mega-complexes that have sprung up in the last 20 years or so can feel like searching for water in the desert. Chain restaurants abound, and after a while you're tempted to settle for one of them.
If you happen to find yourself in North Raleigh's sprawling Brier Creek Commons, however, you don't have to settle for one of those culinary mirages.
Just across U.S. 70 in a little strip mall is an oasis called Flame Kabob. It's a cheery little counter service eatery specializing in Persian-style kebabs, grilled over a charcoal flame. I'm partial to the kubideh, a mildly spiced mix of ground sirloin and grated onion, partly because it's so juicy it spurts when I cut into it and partly because kubideh is otherwise nearly impossible to find in these parts. But the lamb and beef tenderloin, both marinated in a blend of garlic and spices, are also excellent. I haven't tried the chicken kebabs yet, but after hearing the exclamations of approval at a nearby table recently, I plan to soon.
As good as the kebabs are, the flatbread -- sesame-spangled lavash baked in the restaurant's clay oven -- makes the meal even more special. If you order a sandwich, lavash takes the place of the familiar pita in other Middle Eastern restaurants. Lavash is served with all kebab platters, too, along with a yogurt-cucumber-mint sauce. Salad and saffron-fragrant basmati rice are also available.
The wholesome food and reasonable prices (sandwiches $6 to $7, platters $8 to $12) are more than enough justification to yield to the temptation of that plate of baklava sitting on the order counter. Cinnamon-fragrant towers of crisp, golden phyllo on a foundation of walnuts and pistachios, these are the creation of Sarah Bakhshandeh, the warmly hospitable "mom" in this mom-and-pop operation. "Pop" would be Sarah's husband, Bahram, a native of Iran who has lived in the United States since 1986. And those two well-behaved boys who are frequently in the shop when school is out? They're the Bakhshandehs' children, 8-year-old Daniel and 4-year-old Aidin.
Now aren't you glad you didn't settle for a fast-food chain?