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Turkish cuisine is one of the most influential and underappreciated cuisines of the world. The word "yogurt" is a Turkish word. It is a Turkish invention that made its way north from Turkey to Bulgaria and Eastern Europe during the Ottoman occupation. The Yiddish word "pastrami" derives from the Turkish "pastirma," for dried spiced beef.
Even though it's a Muslim country, the Turks have been producing wine in the Anatolia region since it was introduced by the Ancient Greeks. Skewered and roasted meats, the famous shish kebab, attest to the nomadic heritage, as do flatbreads, which are baked on an overturned griddle called a sac. The sac is similar to a flattened wok, another Turkish invention dating from the Ottoman empire.
So with all that culinary history under its collective belt, we are indeed fortunate that here in Queens, Sunnyside is home to a small, vibrant Turkish community, granting the rest of us access to their special brand of deliciousness.
The Turkish Grill at Queens Boulevard and 42nd Street is an ideal place to indulge in these Turkish delights. They offer authentic Turkish cuisine in an atmosphere that blends the upscale ambiance of linen tablecloths and napkins with the ethnic charm of traditional artifacts and paintings. The large wall is dominated by a folk artsy painting of a clutch of Turkish women wearing the traditional headgear of a fez and veil.
We didn't expect to be taken with Turkish wine, but were intrigued enough to try a glass of Cankara, a blend of four grapes of Anatolia. We were rewarded with a full-bodied white that hinted of citrus and flowers. If we spot it at a liquor store, we wouldn't hesitate to bring home a bottle.
The basket of warm flatbread called ekmet brought to the table cries out to be combined with Turkish Grill's selection of creamy cold appetizer dips and salads. The best way to go is to order a platter of mixed appetizers for your table. Some of our favorites are piyaz, white beans with onions in a savory dressing; lebni, yogurt with garlic and dill; and imam bayaldi, stuffed baby eggplant halves, tomatoes, peppers and spices. For more sumptuous hot appetizers, try either sigara borek, a blend of feta and herbs wrapped in think, crisp pastry, or findik lahmacun, a sampling of Turkish-style pizza topped with ground lamb and chopped vegetables.
If you're looking for a light casual meal, lahmacuns and pides could be the right change of pace. These are the Turkish answer to pizza. A lahmacun, mentioned earlier in the appetizers, is a thin-crusted open pizza. The pide is a stuffed, boat-shaped bread with a choice of fillings. We downed a mixed pide, basically the works! It comes stuffed with pastrami (definitely not Hebrew National), garlic beef, pepperoni, mozzarella, and ground meat. If not for the uniquely Turkish blend of seasonings, it could have passed for something Italian. Pair that with a shepherd salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers, and you've got a perfectly satisfying casual meal.
The entrees are heavily into riffs on the kebab theme of lamb or chicken. Their doner kebab (equivalent to the Greek gyro) is seasoned with perfect pitch. A little menu bonus is that they offer a selection of kebab combo plates so that you can mix and match. A favorite strategy of ours is for one diner to order the homemade manti, diminutive pillows of steamed dough filled with ground lamb, onion and spices. The other diner orders a kebab combo. Then we split everything. The manti by themselves are a little rich to make a meal of, but in combination are just perfect.
The Bottom Line
Turkish Grill combines an attractively upscale atmosphere with even more attractively modest prices. Turkish cuisine is a welcome change of pace from some of the more overplayed ones. A trip to Sunnyside could make your belly want to dance.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger's restaurant critic and author of "Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America's Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y." She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkish Grill Restaurant
42-03 Queens Blvd.
Sunnyside, NY 11104
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Hours: Lunch & dinner daily
Alcohol: Wine & beer
Credit Cards: $15 minimum
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Yes
A SAMPLE FROM THE MENU
Mixed appetizers...$11 sm./$19 lg.
Shepherd salad...$6/$11 (With cheese add $1/$2)
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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