Al Klimova, a.k.a. Al Kebab, owner and chef at Al Kebab Mediterranean BBQ in Groton, can’t say what his favorite restaurant is. With years and years’ worth of friends in the restaurant business, it’s awfully hard to choose, and he doesn’t want to offend anyone either.
“I have too many friends in New York City, in Chicago, in Montreal,” he says.
All of these friends have rubbed off on Klimova, whose culinary repertoire includes family recipes from the Middle East, New York-style Italian cooking, and good ol’ American barbecue. The menu at Al Kebab reflects this well-rounded background with, as one Patch writer described, such diverse dishes as “creamy taboulleh and hummus appetizers right next to succulent baby back ribs and golden cornbread.”
Indeed, besides Middle Eastern favorites like falafel, shwarma, and baba ghannouj and barbecue entries like full and half racks of slow-cooked ribs, Al Kebab serves up minestrone soup, shrimp scampi, chicken marsala, fish ‘n chips, and a sandwich called The Calabrese.
Food-lovers in Groton and the surrounding towns seem to have noticed this multicultural gem on Poquonnock Road. Al Kebab has just completed its first year in business, always a noteworthy anniversary in the restaurant industry. So in this month’s chef profile, we salute Al Klimova of Al Kebab Mediterranean BBQ.
Q1: What’s your best dish at Al Kebab? What’s so great about it?
A: “My hummus is the best because it’s always made from the freshest ingredients.”
Q2: How did you get the idea to combine Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine with barbecue?
A: “The major ingredients were there begging to be given a special shot of zing, and barbecue was something I knew from when I was young, when I started in restaurants in New York City. I started with barbecue at an early age.”
Q3: What chefs inspire you?
A: “‘Begin a hazzabin’ … in the beginning ‘til now, there is always someone special in your life, always someone who influences you or whom you admire.”
Q4: What’s your favorite restaurant (besides your own)? What’s your favorite dish there?
A: “Anything but a Middle Eastern eatery. A cheeseburger. ….I have too many friends in New York City, in Chicago, in Montreal (to choose).”
Q5: What is your fondest food memory? What’s the best meal you ever ate?
A: “The first meal my grandfather made for me—stuffed eggplant. I love the thought of it even today. …My grandfather was a chef in a British embassy, and he was as good as they come.”
Q6: If you had catered the Last Supper, what would you have cooked for Jesus and his disciples?
A: “Our most popular Al Kebab meal, which is the Kebab Combo. He could take the memory of it up to heaven with him.” The Kebab Combo includes shish kebab, kefta kebab, and chicken kebab over rice and grilled vegetables, for $10.
Q7: If you were headed to the electric chair tomorrow, what would you eat for your last supper?
A: “A New York-style kosher hot dog with sauerkraut.”
Q8: If you weren’t in the restaurant business, what would you be doing for a living?
A: “I’d be a comedy host.” Klimova counts Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy among his favorite comedians.
Q9: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: “A tuna fish sandwich at Subway with a Coca-Cola.”
Q10: If you were invited to compete on “Iron Chef” and the theme ingredient was lamb, what dishes would you prepare?
A: “Invite me to the show and I will surprise you.” Not to spoil the surprise, but we might expect Al to make a few of the lamb dishes from Al Kebab’s menu, such as the marinated and charbroiled lamb kebab or the grilled Lebanese lamb pilau, or pilaf, with marinated lamb tossed with spices, nuts, and fruit over rice.
Q11: What cooking tips can you offer to those of us who don’t know an oven mitt from a catcher’s mitt?
A: “Don’t watch TV while preparing a meal.”
Q12: Without divulging any company secrets, of course, can you tell us some basic numbers about Al Kebab? Maybe how many pounds of baba ghannouj or how many ribs you serve on a busy weekend?
A: “I prepare about 20 percent more than I think I can sell. I usually sell all of that out, and the next week I do it again and hope for the best.”
Q13: What lessons about life can we learn from barbecue?
A: “Life is a well-marinated morsel of meat, a flaming fire of selected fruit woods, and a special sauce made from grandma’s recipe, all utilized in that order.”