Bistro Barbès opened last year in the North Park Hill neighborhood, serving French cuisine touched with North African brushstrokes. The menu is refined and evocative at the tiny eatery, so much so that it won our Best French Restaurant honor this year. Now chef-owner Jon Robbins has opened a second, even smaller spot, taking his inspiration from a little further east to create the fast-casual Souk Shawarma inside Avanti Food & Beverage. The menu may be simple — with only beef and chicken shawarmas to choose from — and the hefty portions more suited to a two-handed grip than a gleaming white plate, but the flavors are no less evocative.
Robbins says Souk's shawarmas and sauces are Levantine in origin — "inspired by my travels in that region of the world," he explains — as opposed to the Middle-East-by-way-of-Europe street food that most Americans are more familiar with. Plus, he's adding his own painterly touches that result in a street parade of flavors that capture the essence of the sidewalk vendor, the spice market and the open-air cafe.
The roasted meats turn on vertical spits — thirty to forty pounds at a time — topped with whole onions. Cumin and other Mediterranean spices mingle in the marinade, cut by house-made pickles and a choice of sauces: tzatziki, chermoula (a vivid green herb sauce) or spicy carrot harissa. Robbins recommends getting all three.
All this is swaddled in an oversized pita — in a nine-inch round that Souk special-orders from its pita bakery, since the standard size is only six inches. Robbins says he's also working on developing a falafel for Souk, but he wants to make it gluten-free, so getting the texture just right is important before it's added to the menu. In the meantime, the forearm-sized shawarmas should keep customers full.
Souk is located on the second floor of Avanti, right next to Bixo Mediterranean Bites, so you can grab your sandwich wrap and head out to the rooftop deck, the bleachers seats facing Coors Field or the second-floor bar, where the bartenders specialize in pairing the perfect drink with your food choice.
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This week we're spotlighting the seven fast-casual food counters inside the brand new Avanti Food & Beverage building, which just opened on Monday. Here are our other Avanti close-ups:
Poco Torteria from Pinche's Kevin Morrison
Farmer Girl from Chef Tim Payne
Brava Pizzeria from Dave Bravdica