Know what doner kebab is? You will soon enough, judging by the recent outcropping of doner concepts with names like Spitz, Prime Cutts and Berlins scattered all over L.A. Vertically spit-roasted meat just may be the successor to poke mania. SpireWorks, a freshly unveiled fast-casual spot specializing in the Turkish creation, might be the best restaurant for it yet.
Bob Kaufman, Founder and CEO of SpireWorks, which opened this week in Westwood Village, believes his place can offer foodies (a term he embraces) a globe-trotting experience: he calls his sandwiches, rice bowls and salads “destinations.” This doner-obsessed restaurateur, with over a million frequent flyer miles under his safety belt, fell in love with travel at a young age. His international food experiences began in earnest as a college student abroad in China. (Kaufman can speak Mandarin.) But it wasn’t until his job as a VP at Tower Records that he really got a taste for foreign fare. Visiting Tower Record franchisees from Bangkok to Dublin, Kaufman made eating the focus of his down time.
It was the Turkish doner kebab — pita sandwiches full of roasted beef or lamb that's been sliced off the spit, much like L.A.'s more commonly-known al pastor — that made Kaufman the happiest. He went to Turkey and did what any food obsessive who’s hell bent on a particular dish would do: he ate as much doner as he could, at every place he could eat it.
Doner is prepared in many different ways around the world, but Kaufman most loves the original Turkish style. “Different meats are used from town to town. They used whatever was available. My favorite doners are Turkish,” he explains. Although doner is so popular in Germany that it’s considered a national food, Kaufman feels that version isn’t the best. “Minced veal is the meat of choice in Germany. It has a strange sausage-y flavor. Turkish doner versus German doner is like comparing a world-class steak to a hot dog,” he said.
SpireWorks doesn’t claim to replicate the Turkish doner experience exactly, as cattle in Turkey is raised very differently than it is here, which affects the beef’s taste. However, Kaufman wanted to get as close as possible while using antibiotic- and hormone-free meat, so he recruited the chef team at Pilot R+D and Kuniko Yagi, formerly Hinoki & the Bird, to act as consulting chefs. Once the SpireWorks team “cracked the doner code,” the concept started falling into place.
The Westwood SpireWorks is designed to look like a scaled down train depot. The menu resembles a train station’s flap display with choices of “destinations,” i.e., pre-designed flavor combinations geo-named Baja California, Bangkok, Istanbul, Peking, Carolina, Little Italy and New York. Istanbul consists of cabernet tomatoes, cucumber spirals, labneh sauce, pickled red onions and zaatar seasoning. The New York should transport you to a deli in the Big Apple, and Destination Carolina hits you with sweet-smoky barbecue flavors. Or, you can customize: your pick of beef, chicken or the vegetarian kofte (meatballs, but plant-based) is added to a base of wild rice, bread or fresh greens.
Leaves of seasoned meat are deftly shaved off the vertical spire and placed on the line for orders. The bread is a custom hybrid of ciabatta and Turkish simit, and fresh loaves slide from the oven behind the counter all day. The toasty sesame seed bread is split to form a pocket for stuffing the overflowing ingredients — it’s a heaping bite. Bowls hold either wild rice or greens or both if you desire half and half.
The Veggie Kofte isn’t just a plant-based bone tossed to vegetarians as an afterthought. On the contrary, it’s a hearty mini patty of carrots, mushrooms, peppers and onions bound with chickpea flour and urfa pepper. Deep-fried to a crispy crust and soft interior, veggie kofte can supplement any base with any ingredients.
There aren’t any French fries at SpireWorks, which may be something of a shock to doner aficionados. Instead, there are twice-cooked baby Dutch yellow potatoes with your choice of “Shaker” seasoning (mmm, furikake taters!) to match your entree. You won’t miss the fries.
There’s no Coke either; instead, the restaurant carried Stubborn Fair Trade Certified Cane Sugar Soda; if you want to splurge, try a cup of Okinawa Raw Sugar Sea Salt Nitro Latte. Beer and wine are coming soon
For dessert, grab a few of the SpireCakes, which resemble mini Swiss roll cakes and come in banana cream pie, chocolate ganache, tiramisu and strawberry shortcake, among other flavors. They’re small enough to sample one of each, making them that much sweeter. And what the world needs now is certainly more sweetness.
1061 Broxton Avenue, Westwood; (424) 220-6299, spireworks.com.