“Every corner in Germany has a döner kebap,” says Marcello Bisignani. And now Santa Barbara has one too.
Bisignani and his childhood friend Marco Coccia are the proud owners of Urkeb, the new fast-casual shop featuring this beloved German delicacy on lower State Street. “This product is the most popular German street food,” said Bisignani, who hails from the southern end of Germany, where 17,000 stores sell the döner kebap.
After one bite of the thinly shaved and vertically grilled beef and lamb meat, generously packed into freshly baked bread and drizzled with a variety of homemade sauces and vegetables, it’s easy to see why the delicacy is omnipresent. The kebap was originally served in Turkey on a plate with bread and vegetables. Turkish immigrants brought the dish to Germany in the 1970s, where the idea to nestle the meat between bread with garlic yogurt sauce and vegetables took flight.
The international culinary exchange is quickly cultivating a Santa Barbara contingent. “What has most surprised me is that most of our customers are locals,” said Bisignani. He’s also been thrilled to learn how many Germans live in Santa Barbara, and they’re happy to find their native go-to item on the streets of their new town.
Urkeb’s offerings are given a Santa Barbara spin with produce from The Berry Man, breads baked daily from Ethnic Breads, and the addition of an avocado ranch sauce along with the traditional garlic yogurt sauces and Bisignani’s clever combinations, such as the parsley vinaigrette and hot habanero. “What we cannot do in our store, we try to get from a local supplier in Santa Barbara,” Bisignani said. “Everything here is homemade and fresh.”
The döner kebap is made to suit individual preferences, served in a sandwich, wrap, or, for the gluten-free crowd, a bowl. Fillings include beef and lamb; chicken, freshly shaved off the vertical rotisserie; and vegetarian patties. The kebap is topped with a choice of six different sauces — the garlic yogurt and hot habanero combo is most popular — fresh veggies, and the addition of feta cheese or grilled vegetables. Sides include sweet potato and regular fries and, if the “secret menu” item is available, “Urban Fries,” which are sprinkled with feta cheese and garlic yogurt sauce, a Mediterranean spin on animal fries.
My personal favorite was the beef-and-lamb döner kebap served “mit alles!” (“with everything”). The succulent meat and flavorful sauces made for a filling, flavorful, and refreshingly different dining experience, which is exactly what Bisignani is eager to offer our small town. He hopes that people “come into the store and see something a little bit new, something urban.”
That’s guaranteed at a spot where much of the menu is constantly changing. “We don’t have a fixed menu for starters and desserts,” explained Bisignani. On my visit, appetizers included the Fernweh, a crispy chickpea puree mixed with sesame and spices like hummus, and the Kopfkino, featuring a tzatziki-like yogurt with fresh cucumber and garlic, served with sliced bread. The dessert of the day was Bisignani’s own homemade tiramisu. One taste of the perfectly creamy cocoa-dusted and coffee-infused delicacy completely clarified the once-perplexing fact that he had previously owned an Italian restaurant in Germany.
The menu wouldn’t be complete without a crisp German beer to wash it all down. In addition to German brews on draft, he features hometown beers such as Telegraph, bottled beers, sodas, and Whalebird Kombucha on tap.
“We love Santa Barbara,” Bisignani said. With a growing lunch crowd craving a European experience, late-night hours in the works, and plans to open another location, it appears the feeling is mutual.
Urkeb is located at 413 State Street. Call (805) 837-8937 or visit urkeb.com.