Kelowna’s fast casual food scene has some serious competition. Basha Donair, celebrated by locals in the greater Edmonton area has just expanded outside of Alberta for the first time and opened up shop in Rutland yesterday.
The word “Basha” was the word for “King” during the Ottoman empire and owner Kass Fattah says that’s what he wants his customers to feel like when they step into one of his donair locations. Hyberbole sure, but given the paucity of fast food diversity in town I’ll take spit-grilled sandwich royalty goals over Burger King any day.
Kass immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1991, and worked for restaurant giant Brinker International Inc. (helping them start up 25 new restaurants worldwide) before opening his first Basha sandwich shop in 2001 at the West Edmonton Mall.
Basha offers a variety of donair on its menu, all made of that compacted seasoned minced meat, moulded into a cone, speared, and slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie – this way the yummy fat runs slowly through all the meat rather than just falling off. The roasted beef is then shaved off the spit, mounded on a pita (the nice thin kind) with fresh tomatoes and onions, and always slathered in its signature sweet creamy sauce (of course there are always plenty of other garnishes as well as you can see in the counter shot below).
The donair is incredibly popular on the East Coast, and the street food has popped up in various cities westward – one might argue that Basha’s success in the greater Edmonton area is due to all of the East Coast expats working on the oil fields in the northern part of that province. Dude food for sure. And if you really wanna pig out, their Sasquatch Donair is enormous, so big in fact that they challenge you to eat it in five minutes or less, and if successful your next sandwich is free.
I must confess however that I’ve only really had a handful of donairs in my lifetime. The sandwich was not all that common in Toronto where I grew up, however shawarma was, and lucky for us Basha does shawarma too! Certainly the donair is good, but I feel like I’m burying the lead here – the shawarma, one of the world’s most popular street foods and found in most North American cities except Kelowna, has arrived! And at Basha it’s pretty damn delicious.
For the uninitiated, chicken shawarma is another slow-cooked spit-style sammie: chicken breasts packed tightly atop each other on a vertical spit, seasoned Middle Eastern-styles and cooked and shaved much the same as the donair, placed on a flat top grill for extra sizzle, accompanied by a parsley and sumac salad along with the requisite side offerings like lettuce, sliced tomatoes, onions, pickled turnip, cabbage or cucumber, that garlic sauce(!), drizzled with tahini and hot sauce, and served in a thin pita or on a plate.
I have probably already eaten a lifetime’s worth of shawarma so I know my expectations are pretty high (shout out to Sam at Parkdale’s Ali Baba, or any of the Canada-famous Ottawa joints) but here is how close I felt to King status after dining at Basha: definitely the whole experience was a royal pleasure, and their homemade garlic sauce and pickled goodies game put them atop many of the Mediterranean vendors who offer these up soggy and bland from the can. Like any poultry rotisserie, it is all about not wasting that elixir of the gods: bird fat. To me the fundamentals are that creamy white meat and confit texture – the tasty result of cooking meat in its own “juices” – and rich garlic sauce (thoom, a fluffy garlic mayo) well countered by crisp, house-made, pink pickled turnips and cukes adding all the right amount of zing. Basha does not dissappoint here.
The only drawbacks were minor quibbles really: tahini sauce was not automatically proferred with the shawarma, but they were happy to squeeze it on there by request; the shawarma was served with processed cheese (?) which while not unpleasant just felt a little excessive to me; and finally the presentation was rather unwieldy. For street food, portability and structure is a factor, and this was one messy mow-down, likely due to the pita not being opened and stuffed before rolling. While the ample serving (for a small size too!) will be appreciated by hungry diners, the closed pita doesn’t even wrap around it all – I guess that’s why they serve it in the regular foilpaper, AND a plastic bag wrapped around the base. All told, the experience, per Kass’ promise, was pretty high on the royalty ranking and to be fair, I’d say it’s not terribly noble or chivalrous to quibble about anything on opening day (too petty bourgeoisie?).
The space has a welcoming vibe, it’s super bright and clean, but still cozy with banquets to nestle into and Tim & Sid on the telly in the corner. The staff are very friendly (and generous with the offerings at the counter) and even though it was busy, it was very efficient.
Rutland is becoming a diverse fast foodie haven and Basha will be a welcome addition to the mix. In a town long-suffering an overabundance of chain food, overpriced juice bars and the ubiquitous rubber-wrapped fish taco, this tasty corner of Kelowna often attracts us up the 33 just for a quick nosh at either Dosa Crepe Cafe, New Punjab Sweets, Latin Fiesta and Burger Baron. And with the proliferation of the food scene – along with the insane amount of second hand shopping up there – it’s becoming a favourite way to spend a day off as well. #StraightIntoRutland!