You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I love salad. I enjoy it as an appetizer. I clean off my plate when it comes as a side. And, if it’s really tasty, I could be completely satisfied with salad as an entree.

30Jan2006Saharameat.jpgHowever, meat, and plenty of it, is clearly what brings peple to Coney Island Avenue and Avenue T. Sahara, a sprawling restaurant open extremely late into the night, is packed every evening even though it is not cheap. Russians come up from Brighton Beach. Italians come over from Bensonhurst. Black cars parallel double park out front. The lot is usually full by dinner, and on the weekends Sahara is popular enough that they have to offer valet. Everybody in southern Brooklyn knows that the Sahara is the place to go for a fix of tasty Turkish meat.

30Jan006Saharagyro.jpgThe mixed grill is nothing but winners. The plate is loaded down with shaved bits of meat off their lamb and beef “gyro,” crispy on one side, juicy on the other. The chicken kebab is grilled beautifully, leaving exactly the right parts charred and the right parts tender. And the lamb chop is delightfully greasy.

When I stop at Sahara on a tour, I usually show off Sahara’s shawarma (which they refer to as “gyro sandwich” even though they’re Turkish). Although the spacey grill man occasionally fills the pita with far too many vegetables on top so that the precious meat can’t be reached until after a few messy bites, I still consider it one of the best in town.

So isn’t it ironic that Sahara serves my favorite salad on earth? It is called the Shepherd Salad, and it is genius in it’s simplicity. It consists of nothing more than cubed tomatoes and cucumbers along with some red onions and cilantro. The dressing, they tell me, is simply olive oil, salt, and vinegar. And it’s usually garnished with three or four black olives (unless you order it to go, in which case you get none, which is annoying). And every salad comes with soft, fluffy, chewy Turkish home bread that they bake there daily.

30Jan2006Saharasalad.jpgBut I’m sure the main reason I’ve fallen so hard for Sahara’s Shepherd Salad is the cheese option. For an extra couple dollars, they’ll serve the salad with feta. This Turkish feta, however, is a creamier version than the crumbelievable Greek variety I’m used to. And, quite brilliantly, they SHAVE it rather than crumble it. The result is a salad with an even distribution of feta that makes every bite a sensation.

Yes, there is a giant, lit-up plastic gyro over the doorway. Yes, their slogan is “Let’s Meat At Sahara.” And, yes, I am, admittedly, an unreconstructed carnivore. But since I discovered Sahara’s Shepherd Salad, when I find myself on Coney Island Avenue, my mouth starts watering for salad.

2337 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn 718-382-9476