Time for Turkish tea? And Sultan Kebab has Turkish coffee for dessert.
File photo by Tom Daly
Maybe the reason we never noticed Sultan Kebab, which has been open almost a year, is its not-so-great location, tucked in back of the Rio 29 Plaza.
"We knew that," says Serhat Peker. "But there's no kebab restaurant in this part of 29. This is our first place and we didn't want a big risk."
The first anniversary is a significant one for Peker and his partner, Deniz Dikman, because many new restaurants don't make it to the one-year mark.
There are kebabs in the area, Peker points out, but this is the only Turkish restaurant, and the food reflects his country's straddling of east and west. The western end toward the Mediterranean uses olive oil and fish, explains Peker, while on the Asian side of the country, grilled meats are big.
"My city is between the east and west, and in the south," he says. "We get both."
His hometown, Adana, appears on the menu, as in the skewered ground beef Adana kebab, seasoned with fresh red pepper, red pepper paste, and paprika.
Dikman's city, Izmir, is on the menu as well, and the ground beef Izmir kebab is marinated and seasoned with cumin, onion, and garlic.
They make lamb and chicken kebabs, too, and then there's the Iskender kebab, which is like a gyro with thin-sliced marinated lamb and beef, a dish Peker says is about 500 years old.
But if the same meat is served as a sandwich, it's called a Doner kebab. Who knew?
And who knew that lahmacun, a $4.95 appetizer, is sort of a Turkish pizza with ground beef, vegetables and herbs, only instead of slicing it, it's rolled up and eaten, says Peker.
Here's another unfamiliar app: Sigara Borek ($3.50)– Turkish white cheese wrapped in phyllo that looks like bread sticks.
We recognize some Mediterranean standards– hummus, baba ghanoush, that creamy eggplant/tahini/lemon juice concoction so great on pita, and dolmas.
And there's taboulleh, only the Turkish version is called kisir, and maybe it's the pomegranate sauce that makes it redder than what we're used to.
"Most people are impressed with the hummus casserole," says Peker. Unlike the typical hummus served cold, his version is hot with tomato and kashar cheese, and it's a dish not found in Turkey, but only in Charlottesville. "It's our signature dish."
Despite the name, don't think Sultan Kebab is only for carnivores. The Sultan's vegetarian plate ($8.95) has samples of the vegetarian appetizers plus rice, and the owners plan to add more vegetarian dishes.
They've also added delivery for those fortunate enough to live between Forest Lakes and UVA.
Turkophiles will also find Turkish wines, beer, sparkling water, and even sour cherry and apricot juices. And of course there's Turkish baklava served with frozen yogurt.
The two young Turks came to the U.S. as part of a tourism and hotel management program for an internship at Clifton Inn, where they ended up working for about six years.
"I love to cook all the time at home," says Peker. "I love to share that with people. It's traditional hospitality."
And he and Dikman know their food. "We opened this almost for ourselves," he says. They come from a culture where high culinary standards were set during the Ottoman dynasty, and what was good enough for the Sultan was good enough for his people. Lucky for us.
Glass Haus restaurant is earning rave reviews, but its heralded Executive Chef Ian Boden isn't hogging the spotlight as he welcomes some of this region's best chefs to use his kitchen for a monthly guest chef dinner. February brings Chef Jason Alley, who'll prepare a family style meal of southern classics, much of it locally and regionally sourced. Alley, owner of Comfort and Pasture restaurants in Richmond, is critically acclaimed in his own right, and he'll open a second location of Pasture at The Shops and Stonefield this spring. The Glass Haus guest chef dinner takes place February 27 at 7pm and is $85. Reservations required. 434-244-8439 or visit www.glasshauskitchen.com