Over the past few years, the Skypoint building has turned into akind of upscale food court for downtown Tampa. Taps Wine and Beer started it right, with a focus of drinks before food and plenty of outdoor seating that amped the urban vibe. And after a few fits and starts, the rest of the first-floor spaces have settled into a nice array of restaurants that appeal to many different, but almost always accessible tastes. There's sushi and martinis at The Point Bistro and Lounge, burgers and fries at Five Guys and pizza with modern sensibilities at Pizza Fusion.
Then, just a couple of months ago, Kurdi's brought a Middle Eastern vibe to the final empty space, on the least-travelled northeast corner of the building. It's fast-casual — you order at the counter — but with beer, wine, modern design and a culinary niche that's underserved in downtown Tampa it should fit both the workday lunch crowd and urban residents.
An easy sell, if only Kurdi's food had more to offer than what you'd find at a more downscale food court.
Like most approachable Middle Eastern spots, the menu is a greatest-hits array of simple grilled meats and kabobs, dips and small bites. The hummus is tasty enough, rich and loose thanks to a heavy hand with the tahini that extends to a baba ghanoush more about the sesame paste than the roasted flavor of eggplant.
After that, things head downhill at a steady clip. Grape leaves are bland and reminiscent of Greek take-out, while the falafel is exceedingly dry. Kurdi's take on lentil soup concentrates more on featureless broth studded with soft onions than the few lentils crowded at the bottom of the bowl. A vegetarian dish of green beans sauteed with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil smells wonderful, but falls apart once you start gnawing through the undercooked and chewy veggies.
Entrees are more of the same, with a few interesting options that could add a flourish to the unexciting dishes if only they were accomplished with any competence. Traditionally, shawarma consists of seasoned meat slow-roasted on a pit and shaved off for sandwiches or served over rice. At Kurdi's, both the chicken and beef versions seemed like chopped hunks of chicken or beef sauteed to order with an inconsequential spice blend that largely revolves around salt. The result is more fast food than fast-casual restaurant fare.
Fast, however, is not Kurdi's strong point. You could easily wait for upwards of a half hour or more for your food. And, as I've said, when the platters hit the table it's not necessarily a cause for celebration.
Order the shawarma in a sandwich and you'll get a side of the restaurant's decent thick-cut fries, roasted in olive oil and doused in herbs. Order a shawarma platter and you'll need to choose from three flavors of seasoned rice that range from innocuous to atrocious: pesto is the best of the bunch, garlic adds a little bit of nothing to the oddly wet rice, and fire-roasted pepper features a sodden tang of vinegar that is disconcerting at best. Loaded with veggies and drizzled with rich tahini, the pita sandwiches are definitely the correct choice here.
If anything, Kurdi's kabobs are less exciting than the shawarma, just hunks of seasoned chicken or beef cooked long enough to force the moisture to flee. Kufta — a mix of ground lamb and beef — is almost a credible purchase here because it is looser and more flavorful, even though dry enough to have you reaching for some lemonade.
That, actually, is Kurdi's single saving grace: they make an excellent and clever glass of lemonade. Tart and sweet, flecked with plenty of fresh mint leaf shreds and blended with tiny bits of crushed ice, that drink might have me headed to this corner of Skypoint, in spite of the food.
Of course, I'd likely take that lemonade to go and drink it while waiting for a burger, pizza or sushi around the corner.
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