Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

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Choose from veggie, chicken or a beef and lamb mix.
The döner kebap, so named by Aygun after the Turkish word dondurmek, which translates to a rotating roast, quickly became one of Germany's most popular street foods, possibly eclipsing currywurst, french fries and leberkäse as the No. 1 item. In fact, if you do a Google image search for "German street food," most of the photos are of döner kebaps.

Which brings us to Michael Heyne and Dominik Stein, who moved to Austin from Germany to pursue master's degrees in business at the University of Texas. When they got to Austin, they found the food scene lively, but they missed their good ol' döner kebaps from home. Sure, they found gyros and schwarma, but it just wasn't the same. Upon graduating in 2011, the two decided to do something about their cravings, and they opened Verts: Berlin Inspired Kebap near the UT campus.

After opening nine locations in and around Austin, the duo decided to expand to Houston, opening the first Verts just north of Washington last week. The food initially debuted at our own Menu of Menus before the shop hosted a grand opening on Saturday, April 12. The next location will be opening at 1572 West Gray Street in River Oaks on Wednesday, April 23, and the third store will be located at 15556 Cutten Road in Vintage Park.

Less than a week after formally opening in Houston, Verts seems to be making an impact. I've heard numerous food writers talking about how much they enjoy the healthy fast food, and when I checked out the place for myself at lunch recently, there was a decent crowd. People seem to be lured in primarily by two things: The fact that each kebap contains 544 calories or fewer, and the idea that we've totally been missing out on this German fast food phenomenon.

Here in Houston, we consider ourselves extremely multicultural. We've got the food scene and the national accolades to back that up. And now we finally have döner kebaps.

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As many veggies as you want, but cheese costs extra.
When I went for lunch, I ordered two kebaps, both just for me--a chicken and a vegetarian. The vegetarian one contains a few patties made of potato, carrot and celery with herbs, but that can be substituted for grilled veggies if you choose. The chicken was sliced fresh off the rotating spit and piled into a pita.

There's an array of sauces to choose from at Verts. They're all yogurt-based except for the hot sauce, which does indeed pack a punch. The menu lists sauce recommendations based upon the meat choice, so I went with house yogurt, vinaigrette and hot sauce with my chicken and house yogurt and spicy red sauce with the veggie patties. When piled high with spring mix greens, tomatoes, corn, onions and feta cheese, both kebaps were delicious. Surprisingly so. Like, so delicious and refreshing they were hard to stop eating (but I knew I had to because I really don't need two whole sandwiches for lunch).

The chicken was tender, juicy and slightly spiced, not at all dry, as I was expecting from meat that had been rotating in front of a heat source for God knows how long. The veggie patties were equally flavorful, and the lightly toasted pita bread was doughy and held up well under the heft of its stuffing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, though, were the french fries, which I ordered on a whim just because I love french fries. They were some of the best I've had in a while. Fast food style thin and crispy with just the right amount of crunch on the outside, while still soft on the inside. There was nary a soggy fry in sight.

So, I get it, Germany. I get it, Austin. I get the obsession with döner kebaps. Will they change my life or make up the bulk of my diet? Probably not. But I can't wait to go back and eat some more.

Location Info

VERTS

107 Yale St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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14 comments
anonymous
anonymous

doner was NOT invented in germany

it is a Turkish staple for generations and  there is a variation on it in every Arabic country (shawarma) and Greece and possibly other eastern Mediterranean places.

just bec someone started a franchise or because it is consumed and liked in Germany, that does does not make it german

Julie T Vu
Julie T Vu

Its good :) Kinda chipotle style ordering.

Andy Mc
Andy Mc

About time I have had them in the UK and that it is much better than a Gyro

Becci1
Becci1

Why would anyone put hot sauce on a lovely piece of lamb?

erichenao
erichenao

My wife and I went to the open free food day. We too sampled the fries and were very surprised. I inquired about how they made them. yes they are frozen, but it's something in the way they prepaired them that helps them be less oily and limp. Regardless, a single order size of the fries is 200 cal, while the big order is double that. Not too bad for those who count the calories.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

Doner Kebap refers to the meat, not the sandwich.  If you put doner kebap on bread then you have a doner kebap sandwich. You can't eat a vegetarian doner kebap sandwich since doner kebap is the meat.  As for doner kebap being invented in Germany, that sounds like nonsense.  They've been eating that in Turkey for a long time.


Anyway, if you want a good example of doner kebap, go to Istanbul Grill.

paval
paval topcommenter

I have many times defined doener kebap as a "German" food, which a lot of other Germans would never accept, but it was invented in Germany, it is mostly eaten in Germany and spread out from there to the Quartier Latin in Paris for instance, given that it is cheap, quite healthy and much more flavorful than most classical German dishes. 

It is said, that in Germany, all doener kebap restaurants outsell Burger King, McDonalds and all the other American fast food places. Judging by the waistline in the US and in Germany that may be true!!

Also a small correction for the author. Correctly the bread of doener kebap is called pide, pita is the pocket bread used for the greek gyro (which gets its name from the rotating spear with meat on it). 

And to underline the importance Doener Kebap has in Germany a few fun facts around it:

- there is a doener kebap trade show, the DOEGA

- sales in Germany amount to 3.5 Billion Euro per year. (2012 sales of Mc Donalds worldwide were 27.5 billion) 

- due to strong competition in the doener market you can find 3 USD doeners in Berlin from time to time. What you may find in the meat other than beef and lamb is the big question.

- a doener kebap is by German Food Laws made out of ram, lamb and/or beef. So there is no chicken doener. Fortunately for the Verts guys the German Food laws are not valid in Texas and if there was ever the danger of them coming into Texas, Rick Perry is going to defend us from the intruders and Verts right to call their chicken one also a doener kebap


KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Bruce_Are  At Verts, they refer to the sandwiches as kebaps. So that's just a reference to how it's stated on the menu. I'll have to check out Istanbul Grill asap!

ssss
ssss

@paval  I've had a chicken doner in Hamburg. I'd get a doner regularly on the way home from work from a stand on the street. Easy food and cheap. I miss them :(  I did try Verts in Austin, it's very good, just not quite the same. 

ComicBookGuy
ComicBookGuy

@KaitlinS @Bruce_Are  I will echo Bruce on this.  Istanbul grill is terrific.  The Pastrami Pide is terrific, and you can get everything to go, move down two doors and have your food with an excellent beer at the Ginger Man.  

ismael
ismael

@KaitlinS @Bruce_Are  

Or Nazif's. Homemade pide. 


Or the place Kirby near Richmond that Robb Walsh once poked fun at: Turquoise Grill.

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