by Cheryl Baehr
Juicy, spit-roasted chicken, creamy tahini sauce and fresh herbs rolled into a soft pita -- it's hard to imagine a more perfect lunch than chicken schwarma. We sampled versions from the Vine Mediterranean Cafe and Market (3171 south Grand Boulevard; 314-776-0991) and Al-Tarboush Deli (602 Westgate Avenue, University City; 314-725-1944) to see how these Mediterranean sandwiches stack up against one another.
The Vine Chicken schwarma from the Vine arrives neatly rolled into a pressed and toasted thin pita. Inside, the wrap contains hunks of herbed white-meat chicken, sliced tomatoes and tahini sauce. The dish's standout ingredients are the julinenne-cut sweet pickles. Their fragrant, perfume-y flavor permeates the schwarma and adds a snappy crunch.
Al-Tarboush Deli Taken out of its butcher-paper wrapping, Al-Tarboush's chicken schwarma is a mess. The reason for the not-so-pretty presentation, however, is its mix of fillings: cubed, marinated chicken breast, tomatoes, red onions, parsley, pungent garlic spread and so much tahini sauce that it dribbles down the eater's arm. It's a small price to pay.
The Winner: Al-Tarboush Deli For sheer ease of eating, the Vine is a better-built wrap. The schwarma contents are tightly bound into the crisp, toasted pita, making it an easy grab-and-go option. The sweet pickles, classic in many traditions, add a pleasant, floral touch and texture to the wrap. However, Al-Tarboush's mouth-puckering, garlic spread and creamy tahini pair to form an ambrosial sauce. The zesty marinated chicken and cool, fresh parsley make your mouth dance with flavor-induced joy. Just don't take this tasty wrap out of the paper.