There’s something about shawarma—a Middle Eastern exclamation point of rotating meat basting in its own juices—that is absolutely fascinating. Like my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky who once gushed, “Just the outer edge of the meat is sliced, so essentially the sandwich is just the sizzling brown surface of a lamb roast,” I am fascinated with shawarma in all its forms.
Until very recently I have only had the chicken version, but lately the lamb variety—really a blend of lamb and turkey—has come on my radar. Most recently at Tov-Li Shawarma & Falafel a newish Israeli spot that opened on the Bukharian Broadway that is 108th Street in Forest Hills.
The stars of the show—twin spits of lamb and baby chicken—tower majestically in the window, as the grill man slices their crisp outer edge with an electric knife, really a circular meat saw. As if the sight of the rotating meat wasn’t tempting enough, the accompanying whir of the shawarma shaver and the cascade of meat into the pan, triggered a Pavlovian response causing me to opt for the gargantuan baguette ($15.50) instead of the more modest pita ($13.50).
Once the meat was sliced, sandwich assembly commenced. First came a healthy schmear of hummus, followed by Israeli salad and onions and then the meat itself topped by fiery green schug and the spicy pickled mango sauce known as amba. The resulting sandwich was as long as my forearm, and absolutely delicious.
The menu lists beef shawarma, and a third, empty spit sits beside the other two. “Next time, I’ll try the beef,” I said to my new friend on the way out. “We don’t have it anymore. It’s not as delicious,” came his response.
It is worth pointing out that the joint’s name “Tov-Li,” means “good for me.” The jury’s out on the health benefits of fatty lamb sandwiches but I know I’ll be back.
Tov-Li Shawarma & Falafel, 64-47 108th Street, Forest Hills, 718-897-2222