Clays Mill Road, a primarily residential stretch of real estate, hardly conjures fancies of exotic ethnic cuisine. Yet there, just outside New Circle Road near Keithshire Way, sits a Pakistani restaurant, thought to be Lexington's first and only eatery specializing in cuisine from that corner of South Asia.
Kebab Mania has been in business for more than a year, but, set back in one of our city's myriad cookie-cutter mini-malls, it is easy to miss. That would be a shame because in this small, unprepossessing family business you will find some of the area's best, lightest, freshest and most flavorful dishes from the Indian Subcontinent.
For example, chicken curry, here called chicken kahari, tastes so buttery you would think it contains ghee, the fatty clarified butter common to the region's cooking. Instead the chef uses canola oil that has a similar mouthfeel but is much better for you. A small, intact Serrano chili imparts the ideal spicy capsicum rush, and slivers of ginger root lend their unique heat. The generous portion is large enough to feed two, and each bite of hand-butchered chicken — be careful of one or two stray little bones — melts in your mouth. This dish includes slices of naan bread, and a platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, white onions and a wedge of lime to squirt on them, all for $7.99.
Or you might try the lamb boti. It's no fancier than juicy chunks of tender grilled meat, but the simplicity only underscores the quality. Spoon some of the fine cilantro-chili yogurt sauce on top, add the side vegetables mentioned above, wrap it in a little bread and you have the perfect uncomplicated, and healthy, meal. For those who avoid red meat, there is a chicken version, tikka boti, as well as grilled chicken legs for $2.50 each.
Pakistan makes flat kebabs called chappli. Kebab Mania has a beef version that is wonderful, in large measure due to the presence of coriander. We are most used to encountering this spice in its powdered and leafy forms, rarely as cracked seeds. They contribute a special luscious earthy fragrance to what might otherwise be considered, well, a hamburger patty.
When I visited Kebab Mania for this review, the kitchen also was turning out some lovely sides: dal, or chili-studded lentils, and curried yellow potatoes fried with onions and cumin. There might be something else next week, though. The menu reflects potential repertoire rather than actual availability. At first, I confess, this disconnect was confusing and disappointing, but now I just spin it as an adventure and enjoy every morsel and the element of surprise.
That said, I am happy to report that there always seems to be chicken biryani. This is everything you always wanted chicken and rice to be: rich but not heavy, with enough turmeric and saffron to make the rice yellow, onions and garlic used in moderation, hints of mulling spices, white meat that doesn't need a knife.
No alcohol is served at Kebab Mania, so order lemonade, here called sikanjabi. It's homemade, barely sweet and tartly refreshing. But there are times when a beer or a glass of wine is just the right partner for the food; you can have that at home because the good news is the restaurant delivers.
Kebab Mania, like many family restaurants, is a place to linger. You can be in and out in an hour, but this is really slow cooking, not short-order. The service is efficient, but the food takes, well, as long as it takes. Anyway, where pleasure is involved, who wants to rush for it to end?
Address: 3340 Clays Mill Rd.
Phone: (859) 514-1492
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Other: Parking lot. No alcohol. Free delivery. Vegetarian options. Dishes are $2.50-$17.99.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.