Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

This adventure in dining begins like many others I’ve experienced over the years: in a nondescript strip mall.

Some of the best food can be found in strip malls of course, in establishments with harshly lit rooms and plastic chairs. So regardless of atmosphere, the anticipation of awesome Turkish food made me giddy. Turns out, I had totally prejudged the book by its cover.

The soft lighting and tasteful decor was downright elegant. Linen tablecloths were framed at the tables by beautifully upholstered chairs. Lovely Turkish art and woven rugs adorned the walls. Cozy was the adjective my brain finally settled upon.

Seductive aromas of sautéing garlic, onion, and spices greeted us. I tried to guess… was that oregano? Maybe cinnamon? Whatever magic they were conjuring back there had us all salivating.
Anatolia’s owner, Huseyin Ustunkaya has a warm and easy smile. The restaurant is packed, and he seems to know the majority of his customers by name. Since things were so busy, I told him we’d talk after the rush died a little. “It’s fine!” He says, “They don’t really need me out there!” I believe him, but I told him I wouldn’t feel right for taking up his time. Besides, we were all starving.

THE CUISINE

Fresh bread with herbed oil was brought, giving us time to look over the menu. I asked our server, Deniz, to pick some of his favorites for us to try.
His choices did not disappoint. We started with the Anatolia sampler platter: Stuffed grape leaves, rolled phyllo filled with salty cheese (these went over HUGE with my kids), and house made hummus with pita. Accompanying this beautiful spread was rose petal jam which I had never had before. Now I kinda want to bathe in it.

At the request of my kiddos we had calamari as well, which was perfect. Crispy, without the consistency of breaded rubber bands. They disappeared fast.

Next came the entrees…

He also recommended a Turkish wine I had never tried. It was a great table wine, dry and light on the tannins.

The lamb stew was amazing. Cubed lamb, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, garlic and onions all baked harmoniously in a stone oven. The gravy forged by this process was delicate, and it balanced the rich flavor of the lamb beautifully.

Up next was Turkish gyros, seasoned and marinated beef cooked on a rotating skewer and thinly sliced (as all proper gyros should be in my humble opinion). It was also served with rice pilaf, yogurt sauce and grilled vegetables.

Because my children are carnivores and love all things lamb, they also had the lamb shish kabob: lamb cubes marinated in Turkish spices chargrilled on skewers served with rice pilaf, yogurt sauce and grilled vegetables. Believe me when I tell you this dish was amazing!

Finally, also at the recommendation of Deniz, I had the vegetarian sampler. It was a magnificent dish of eggplant stuffed with onions, pine nuts, tomatoes and parsley; artichoke stuffed with pine nuts, rice, and currants; and grilled vegetables. It was served with rice and that ubiquitous  yogurt sauce. I generally like vegetarian dishes, this one is now my favorite.

After stuffing ourselves like Christmas turkeys (no pun intended), I had the pleasure of sitting down for a while to speak with the man running this finely tuned show.

How it all started…

The Ustunkaya brothers, Huseyin and Harun, worked in a resort located in Antalya, an idyllic beachside town on Anatolia’s southwest Mediterranean coast.

Owned by Marriot, the resort was an excellent place for the brothers to gain experience, and as Huseyin told me, learn English. He said learning English would be one of the most difficult, and most vital pieces of the process of immigrating to the US.

“My passion wasn’t with resorts, I knew that. I knew what I wanted above all else was to open my own restaurant, serving the food I grew up with and love so much.” He says.

The Ustunkaya brothers come from a family surrounded by food. His father ran restaurants when he was young so the boys had exposure to the business from early on. Later, his father started a family business distributing vegetables to commercial restaurants and resorts. Fun fact: most of his business came from selling purple carrots, which are especially in demand because of a popular drink brewed there called Salgam Suyu made from purple carrots, bulgur wheat, salt, and yeast. I asked him why it wasn’t on the menu. He laughed, “I’m not sure my non-Turkish customers are ready for that yet”.

Of course this made me really want to try it. Challenge accepted, Huseyin.

His mother was a strong influence in the kitchen. She taught Huseyin and Harun how to cook traditional recipes. He especially credits her with kindling the spark which led to his love for cooking.

But competition was harsh in Turkey for independent restauranteurs, and the bureaucracy involved was messy and inconsistent. They had friends here in the U.S who encouraged them to come follow their dream, so they took the leap and came to the U.S in 1998.

Coming to America

Relocating from the resort in Turkey to the Airport Marriott here in Nashville made for an easier transition, but the long term goal was to pave the path toward owning their own place.

Although he has travelled to pretty much every area of the country, he says he feels most at home in Nashville. His neighbors, work colleagues, and community are very supportive. “Nashville is a good place to be because it has a slower pace yet the influx of people moving from bigger cities makes it a melting pot.”

It helps a lot also that he has a nephew and niece who live in Santa Monica, both of whom also in the restaurant business. His brother and sister are here in Nashville. His wife eventually immigrated here as well after he got settled in. Apparently, she too is an amazing cook. “She’s a better cook than me!” Huseyin says, once again with a hearty laugh.

Sharing the culture

Huseyin has found that people are very interested in learning about his culture, and he loves to educate his customers about Turkey. Upon looking around the restaurant that night, I had noticed there were people of all ages, races, etc. He considers himself kind of a casual virtual tour guide, telling people what to see and where to go in Turkey. He gives advice if they’re worried about security, cultural differences, things like that. He especially loves to talk shop about the food.

Hopes for his family, and for others like them.

His face brightens when I ask him what his hopes for the future are here in America.

“I would love to see the little ones find their passion here.”

He says he feels fortunate to have been able to reach the goals he had set for himself, goals that have made him a successful businessman and a well liked member of the community. He’d like to see others have the same opportunity.

When I asked what advice he could give to any immigrated restauranteurs just starting out, he paused thoughtfully for a second.

“The secret to success for any restaurant is happy employees. “This is why we have very little turnover“ he says, “there’s ownership from everyone who works here. We all share the same passion for what we do.”

He also sites steadfastness as a contributing factor. “I stayed persistent when I was first starting out,” he says, “throughout the challenges of financing, all the way around to the everyday ways we try to make dining here a special experience for our customers. It’s not hard to stay persistent when working for something you love.”

Right on time, to punctuate the “special experience for our customers” concept, Deniz shows up to the table with dessert.

“It’s called Kunefe, it’s a special dessert, you won’t find it in too many places here.” He says.

I have never had anything like it. “Divine” may be an understatement. It’s super thin layers of rolled pastry, shredded and baked with unsalted cheese drizzled with light syrup.

It was a sweet way to cap off a wonderful, educational evening. If you’re in the Nashville area, try Huseyin’s place, you won’t regret it.

Visit:
Anatolia Turkish Restaurant
48 White Bridge Road / Nashville, TN 37205
(615) 356-1556 ~or~ (615) 356-1551

Author: Laura Crowley-Gunnoe - http://Writing.Com/authors/lollycrow

Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 12

Take a Voyage Down Pine Island

The journey down Pine Island is a sunny scenic route, traversing bridges and palm tree-lined paths, one gets a highlight of Florida's best attributes. The island is a retreat from Florida's more urban regions. Reaching the bakery requires crossing an aquatic preserve filled with dense tropic mangroves and beaches which span the road to Pine Island Getaway café. The main road is lined with easy-going vacationers meandering in and out of pastel colored art shops. The cafe itself is tucked away from the main road of the island, situated next to a small lake. Offering a view the shop is a short distance off from the more tourist dense portions. In this location the cafe shares the same essence of the island - remaining a retreat without being remote.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 1
Stepping in, the cafe is lined with a counter seeped in sunshine, spanning the wall, windows face a small pine forest. Resort style chairs are arranged under quirky lightbulb lamps. The space is fresh and open despite the storefront being relatively small. But the space was needed to make way for an industrial sized kitchen, the whole place was built to suit the needs of the bakers. The bakery is brand new, opening its doors just over a month ago. "We opened on April, Friday the 13th, which is supposed to be an unlucky day. But it was not so unlucky for us. We had a line out the door."

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 2

 

The Origins of Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Brothers Thomas and Florent Brunet, originally from the French/Dutch island of St. Martin, then purchased land on Pine Island and constructed a bakery to match their dream. As Thomas explains it, they could have selected a space more central and more costly with a view that didn't parallel what the lake provides. A glance outside makes it clear why this location was the better choice. To the back, a screened in porch offers cozy clusters of seating and the authentic vacation atmosphere that the region is known for.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 3

The 'getaway' feeling is essential, "we don't like stress, we try to avoid it the most" jokes Florent commenting on the laid back attitude pervasive throughout the community. Originally a weekend trip destination, Florent fell in love. He came from Miami, where he had initially resided in the States while seeking to improve his English. Despite having lived in Miami for five years he found himself a place to anchor his dreams. "I never came back to Miami, I fell in love with it here, the beaches, the lakes, the nature" Florent gestures towards to the idyllic surroundings.

The business climate here is calm, but especially so when juxtaposed with the fierce competition of France. After turning eighteen Thomas left St. Martin and the Caribbean, and spent three years there studying pastry near Bordeaux. He gained exposure to a variety of cooking and management styles from over five bakeries. He describes the culinary work environment in France as harsh and high-strung. "I took the best of all and brought it here ”, cultivating recipes and techniques while abandoning the cutthroat attitude. "Here there are only a few places to compete with-- in France? There's a bakery on every corner. They're saturated.", remarks Florent. But there was a distinct absence of authentic French pastry and cuisine on the island. That fact drew him in, and led him to prompt Thomas to plant their cafe there.

But Pine Island wasn't always on the horizon. Thomas initially envisioned creating a bakery on an entirely different continent. While Florent had remained in St. Martin and then transferred to Miami, his brother moved from Europe to Asia.
Thomas (who appears to be drawn to a variety of islands) journeyed throughout southeastern Asia, where he spent a significant part of time in the Philippines. He originally got the idea to open a cafe while visiting the Pacific island. "The Philippines’ have no French bakeries," Thomas continues with the advantages, "We would have been the only one.".

Shunning stress doesn't signify lack of hard work, Thomas explains. "Some people think we come for vacations, that's not really the case because I'm in the kitchen for twelve hours a day, I go from six am to six pm." . Though the bakery remains a spot for patrons to get away, the Brunet brothers receive no breaks. "There are no vacations. If you come here to work, to make money, that's it. I cannot take holidays...just work, work, work."

Starting a business as an immigrant in the United States is taxing. Thomas recounts the biggest hurdle of opening the operation being obtaining his visa. Between acquiring permits for construction and negotiating with the US embassy there were no shortage of obstacles to getting the bakery off the ground. There is no guarantee that a business proposal will get approval of the embassy. Not having enough experience, not investing enough, or if the office doesn't believe in your project it can be denied. A foreigner working here has to be a creator of jobs and show clear contributions to the community. This adds pressure to do whatever it takes to support the business.


The Kitchen 

During the conversation rapid French interjections emerge from the kitchen, the brothers communicate through the walls to continue work. Despite being closed on Monday production doesn't cease. Making fresh pastries from scratch takes time. On top of that, the particular type of pastries themselves are quite labor intensive. French pastry, being known for its layers and complex flavors, require a lot of effort. Croissants, a popular French classic, take at least two days to prepare. Thomas reveals two lumps of dough on their second day, proofing in massive chillers that keep the butter intact despite the Florida heat.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 4

But the brothers are no strangers to heat, St. Martin's proximity to the equator make Florida seem moderate in comparison. "Here it can be cold and you see palm trees.", Thomas has fond memories of the warmth of his birthplace. He recalls the joy of the beaches, to which he testifies the Dutch half of the island has more fun. Growing up in the French section provided their introduction into the world of baking.

But baking French recipes with American ingredients can be hazardous. They lament over the horrors of bleached flour and its acrid effects. "You can taste the quality of the ingredients, it shows through. Florent states that his biggest challenge is sourcing ingredients that provide the level of flavor they seek. Not everything is American, with great pride they show off French butter, recently imported. On another counter Dutch chocolate rests, waiting to be incorporated into pain au chocolate. The butter and chocolate are both used in these batches of croissants.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 5

The pair is quite capable of multitasking, they work together, but separately. Florent prepares two plates as he discusses the best places to source items. Thomas contributes as he whips up meringue for the dessert.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 6

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 7
Pine Island Getaway Cafe 8

The Food

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 9

Make no mistake, much more than pastry can be found in Pine Island Getaway Cafe. The focus of the cafe is directed equally towards the meals and the pastry. The pastries rotate with a variety of French treats. Serving unfamiliar tarts, chocolate éclairs, flan, and mille feuille has posed some challenges. But the use of samples quickly puts any qualms to rest.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 10

I am beyond eager to see what has been prepared for me. To ensure that we would have time for the interview I've been invited to dine on a Monday, when the cafe is closed. Periodically throughout our visit, potential customers approach the door. Thomas greets each one of them apologizing for the inconvenience, they reassure him they will be returning. He even sends one particularly passionate woman off with a few goodies.

Because they are closed they offered to make a special meal and dessert, asking my preferences. Having a deep love for all French food after my own experiences of working in a bakery and limited preferences I tell them to surprise me.

We make our selections from an array of high quality coffee drinks, as well as a variety of beverages such as juice. Florent prepares an iced latte, offering: almond milk, soy milk, and whipped cream as options. Returning to the front of house, Thomas brings out our meal, which he informs us is the Vol Au Vent Forestier.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 11

The plate consists of two main elements. There was a simple salad with mixed organic greens, sliced tomatoes, freshly shaved cheese and an olive oil based dressing. It was light and paired perfectly with the Vol au Vent. The Vol Au Vent Forestier had a perfectly crisped flaky puff pastry base topped by chicken and mushrooms prepared in a crème white wine sauce. The texture of the pastry is a result of a dough folded with no shortcuts, each paper-thin layer present. The richness of the sauce, the butter of the pastry, and the chicken, is elevated by the simplicity of the salad. The freshness speaks to the European ideals of high quality local ingredients. A portion that appeared moderate was very filling, but so deeply satisfying that one would forget they had another round of food coming. After cleaning and clearing our plates we advance to dessert.

 

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 12

We're presented two toasted meringue swans sitting atop a glossy pool of lemon custard. These avian-esque edibles are their lemon tarts. The swans are made of a decadent marshmallow-y Italian meringue. The custard is smooth, full of citrus flavor and encased within a firm buttery crust. Every bite is consumed and we're left feeling full and content.

Bienvenue
Pine Island Getaway Cafe is the culmination of cross continental influences. It is the result of adventitious events guided by a vision and dedication. The brothers' roots in St. Martin, time in France, and inspiration found in the Philippines come together, expanding the palate of the community. The Brunet brothers welcome a challenge, they are aware continuing will not be a simple task. They await, earnest to serve and share with their new neighbors.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 13

 

Visit

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
Address: 5281 Doug Taylor Circle.
Saint James City, FL
Phone: 239.283.3602

 

From the Author:

"Some of the biggest elements that comprise my identity are my passion for politics and activism. That focus stems from my position as a queer, biracial, first-generation American. I am interested in exposing disparity within our food systems and developing sustainable solutions to food scarcity. Captured by the concept of 'critical eating', I explore an intersection of anthropology and economics. This delves into the relationship between agriculture and food production. Part of my approach consists on educating consumers on the mechanics of how we provide for ourselves. My intentions are to improve conditions and cultivate an appreciation for those who feed us. I hope contributions to Uncle Sam's will help towards the goal of uniting communities around a common table."

Authors Blog

Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar

When you walk into Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar and speak to Sirac Ergun, you can sense his passion.  Sirac is the chef and co-owner of Pera. He opened Pera in 2017 with his brother Ahmet. They are from Sanliurfa which is in eastern Turkey bordering Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Sirac and Ahmet’s long and winding journey to America took them first to Istanbul, where in 1998 they opened Oceans 7, a seafood restaurant with their 5 bothers. Sirac’s dream had always been to open a restaurant in the US so that he could share his traditions and culture. In 2000, with $100 in his pocket, he moved to the United States. He worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously in Italian, Turkish, and Kurdish restaurants gaining the knowledge and money he would need to open his very own. His hard work paid off! Ahmet joined him in 2011, and they opened Pera in May 2017 after working for 17 years at others’ restaurants.

Pera is named after a vibrant district in Istanbul full of enticing eateries. It is found on the site of a former Turkish restaurant that had been there for 30 years. The brothers worked hard to rebuild the restaurant from the ground up, both its reputation and the ambience. They faced a huge challenge in welcoming back the former patrons and appealing to a wider demographic. Fortunately for us, Sirac doesn’t shy away from any challenge.  He felt that his delicious food and excellent service would quickly bring customers in and back, and boy was he right!

Pera is located on Broadway in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Lakeview is a hip, yuppie area and one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Chicago for restaurants, with one located every few doors.  How does Pera survive and even thrive in this heated environment?  Sirac says, “Having so much competition just makes me work harder and have to be better than my competitors.”  He knows he has to differentiate, and does it so well.  He showers his guests with genuine Turkish hospitality ensuring that people walk in as customers but leave as friends.  His approach with his customers is to “break the ice” by leading with the magic of Turkey by bringing the sounds, scents, flavors and loves of a people whose roots go back for centuries.  His approach to food is to take the same dishes that other restaurants serve and make them unquestionably unique and exceptional.  For example, the hummus served is blended with red beets and the falafel is stuffed with goat cheese.  Although it takes longer, he chops the kebab meat by hand, yielding a far superior taste.  Sirac uses fresh dill.  He prepares everything on a daily basis. It is easy to see that living in America for the past 18 years has not dampened his enthusiasm for the food and culture of his homeland. While his family jokes that he has become Americanized, he really is a proud Turkish man bringing the best of his heritage to his grateful American diners.

The ambiance of the restaurant is instantaneously welcoming, warm, chic, and elegant. There is Turkish tile art on the walls and handmade light fixtures from Kutahya.  The white seats give Pera a clean feel.  Sirac and his brother didn’t always agree on the ambiance but Sirac is older so he usually won out as per Turkish cultural norms.  He wanted to make the restaurant kid friendly yet appealing to adults and welcoming to people of all cultures and backgrounds.  The current project is to renovate the upstairs which will be opening in May.  That space will be for private parties for special occasions, birthday parties, showers, and every type of private party.
FOOD – Presentation is really important to Sirac.  He wants the food to be as beautiful as it is tasty.  Everything is made fresh daily and is upscale yet warm and welcoming.

Appetizers (Mezze Selection) (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Red beet hummus:  Sirac has used a unique family recipe to make a twist on classic hummus by adding red beets. This brings a sweet flavor to the hummus and makes it stand out. Presented beautifully on a slate platter with drops of mustard. Grilled Octopus: an octopus tentacle resting on a bed of sautéed eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers.  Beyond the beautiful presentation, the grilled octopus was flavorful and extremely tender. White bean dip: blended with dill, garlic, cumin, olive oil, and paprika served with daily baked homemade bread offered complimentary to every guest. Falafel: stuffed with goat cheese served as an appetizer with a simple bed of greens and a spicy tahini sauce. Goat cheese is unique to his restaurant and not a traditional preparation of the dish. Zucchini Beignet: perfectly crispy yet moist homemade fried veggie patties with feta cheese, fresh mint and dill served with a creamy garlic yogurt sauce.

Main Course (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Manti: Turkish tortellini crossed with a dumpling, stuffed with mushroom. Light and flavorful, tender pasta with a light sauce – simply delicious Siramarsir:  zucchini stuffed with filet mignon, sautéed onions, and mixed herbs served with garlic yogurt and rice. The   beef and zucchini were perfectly cooked. You will see why this is Sirac’s favorite dish. The dill in the yogurt sauce highlighted  the sweetness of the zucchini perfectly. All the elements of the dish melded wonderfully to dance on our taste buds. Lamb Kebab: Sirac is really proud of the lamb kebabs.  He marinates them overnight.  If he doesn’t have any lamb that has adequately marinated the full 24-hours, he will take the dish off the menu for the day.  He wants them to be perfectly flavored and juicy. Hunkar: This was a favorite of Sultan Suleyman’s wife, Hurrem Sultan and definitely a favorite of ours.  Beef simmered with garlic and tomato sauce is served on a bed of pureed eggplant. The tomato sauce had a deeper and darker silkiness that was well matched to the bold flavor of the meat.

Dessert:

There was a wide array of hot beverages including Turkish tea, apple tea, and Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is cooked with the grounds and served in a small cup. The teas were all served in a beautiful clear tea cup. Kunefe:  If you want a dessert with a “wow” factor, this is for you. It delivers a succulent package, wrapped in a shredded and latticed filo dough pastry, filled with the perfect portion of mozzarella. It was served on top of a gleaming pool of syrup and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Upon further investigation with Sirac we discovered that jasmine flower is the secret weapon of this dish. This dish is simply mind blowing. Baklava: This classic dessert paired with Turkish tea combines light and flaky texture, sticky sweetness and a mild flavor similar to earl grey to produce the perfect balance of flavors. It was served with a scoop of ice cream that at first glance was vanilla but surprised the diner with bits of apricot to add complexity to the texture. The only challenge here was making room to finish it all. For an apertif we were served Raki, a Turkish anis liquor which is best had with water and ice.

Turkish Wine:

Cankaya – a light and mildly fruity white wine reminiscent of a Chardonnay. It was the perfect accompaniment to the appetizer selection. Yakut – similar to a Merlot. Not overpowering but flavorful enough to bring out the light and fun aspects of the grape.

Visit SIRAC ERGUN:

With a wonderful smile and sense of pride Sirac tells us “The dream never ends,”. He strives to open another restaurant either in downtown Chicago or Houston.  He says  “It is all about sharing – you have to grow up together to be successful”. We are so fortunate to have shared our evening with Sirac, immersing ourselves in the food and friendships of Turkey.

VISIT:

PERA TURKISH KITCHEN AND BAR
2833 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-0063

This article is a group effort by the following…

Boston based Chris A. enjoys dining out with his family as often as possible. You’ll often find him and his wife on bikes enjoying New England.

Edwin P. is a Southern California native techie and vintage video game enthusiast. He enjoys playing golf and going hiking in his free time.

Shilpa R. loves everything about food and lives in the best city for it. In her home in Portland, OR she enjoys eating out and exposing her 3 year old daughter to the weird but delicious tastes of this great food city.

Susie T. resides in Austin, TX but is originally from Chicago. She showed her passion for eating from infancy much to the shock of her mother and delight of her grandmother. She loves food of every kind and is determined to try as many different types of food as possible.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 12

Take a Voyage Down Pine Island

The journey down Pine Island is a sunny scenic route, traversing bridges and palm tree-lined paths, one gets a highlight of Florida's best attributes. The island is a retreat from Florida's more urban regions. Reaching the bakery requires crossing an aquatic preserve filled with dense tropic mangroves and beaches which span the road to Pine Island Getaway café. The main road is lined with easy-going vacationers meandering in and out of pastel colored art shops. The cafe itself is tucked away from the main road of the island, situated next to a small lake. Offering a view the shop is a short distance off from the more tourist dense portions. In this location the cafe shares the same essence of the island - remaining a retreat without being remote.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 1
Stepping in, the cafe is lined with a counter seeped in sunshine, spanning the wall, windows face a small pine forest. Resort style chairs are arranged under quirky lightbulb lamps. The space is fresh and open despite the storefront being relatively small. But the space was needed to make way for an industrial sized kitchen, the whole place was built to suit the needs of the bakers. The bakery is brand new, opening its doors just over a month ago. "We opened on April, Friday the 13th, which is supposed to be an unlucky day. But it was not so unlucky for us. We had a line out the door."

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 2

 

The Origins of Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Brothers Thomas and Florent Brunet, originally from the French/Dutch island of St. Martin, then purchased land on Pine Island and constructed a bakery to match their dream. As Thomas explains it, they could have selected a space more central and more costly with a view that didn't parallel what the lake provides. A glance outside makes it clear why this location was the better choice. To the back, a screened in porch offers cozy clusters of seating and the authentic vacation atmosphere that the region is known for.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 3

The 'getaway' feeling is essential, "we don't like stress, we try to avoid it the most" jokes Florent commenting on the laid back attitude pervasive throughout the community. Originally a weekend trip destination, Florent fell in love. He came from Miami, where he had initially resided in the States while seeking to improve his English. Despite having lived in Miami for five years he found himself a place to anchor his dreams. "I never came back to Miami, I fell in love with it here, the beaches, the lakes, the nature" Florent gestures towards to the idyllic surroundings.

The business climate here is calm, but especially so when juxtaposed with the fierce competition of France. After turning eighteen Thomas left St. Martin and the Caribbean, and spent three years there studying pastry near Bordeaux. He gained exposure to a variety of cooking and management styles from over five bakeries. He describes the culinary work environment in France as harsh and high-strung. "I took the best of all and brought it here ”, cultivating recipes and techniques while abandoning the cutthroat attitude. "Here there are only a few places to compete with-- in France? There's a bakery on every corner. They're saturated.", remarks Florent. But there was a distinct absence of authentic French pastry and cuisine on the island. That fact drew him in, and led him to prompt Thomas to plant their cafe there.

But Pine Island wasn't always on the horizon. Thomas initially envisioned creating a bakery on an entirely different continent. While Florent had remained in St. Martin and then transferred to Miami, his brother moved from Europe to Asia.
Thomas (who appears to be drawn to a variety of islands) journeyed throughout southeastern Asia, where he spent a significant part of time in the Philippines. He originally got the idea to open a cafe while visiting the Pacific island. "The Philippines’ have no French bakeries," Thomas continues with the advantages, "We would have been the only one.".

Shunning stress doesn't signify lack of hard work, Thomas explains. "Some people think we come for vacations, that's not really the case because I'm in the kitchen for twelve hours a day, I go from six am to six pm." . Though the bakery remains a spot for patrons to get away, the Brunet brothers receive no breaks. "There are no vacations. If you come here to work, to make money, that's it. I cannot take holidays...just work, work, work."

Starting a business as an immigrant in the United States is taxing. Thomas recounts the biggest hurdle of opening the operation being obtaining his visa. Between acquiring permits for construction and negotiating with the US embassy there were no shortage of obstacles to getting the bakery off the ground. There is no guarantee that a business proposal will get approval of the embassy. Not having enough experience, not investing enough, or if the office doesn't believe in your project it can be denied. A foreigner working here has to be a creator of jobs and show clear contributions to the community. This adds pressure to do whatever it takes to support the business.


The Kitchen 

During the conversation rapid French interjections emerge from the kitchen, the brothers communicate through the walls to continue work. Despite being closed on Monday production doesn't cease. Making fresh pastries from scratch takes time. On top of that, the particular type of pastries themselves are quite labor intensive. French pastry, being known for its layers and complex flavors, require a lot of effort. Croissants, a popular French classic, take at least two days to prepare. Thomas reveals two lumps of dough on their second day, proofing in massive chillers that keep the butter intact despite the Florida heat.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 4

But the brothers are no strangers to heat, St. Martin's proximity to the equator make Florida seem moderate in comparison. "Here it can be cold and you see palm trees.", Thomas has fond memories of the warmth of his birthplace. He recalls the joy of the beaches, to which he testifies the Dutch half of the island has more fun. Growing up in the French section provided their introduction into the world of baking.

But baking French recipes with American ingredients can be hazardous. They lament over the horrors of bleached flour and its acrid effects. "You can taste the quality of the ingredients, it shows through. Florent states that his biggest challenge is sourcing ingredients that provide the level of flavor they seek. Not everything is American, with great pride they show off French butter, recently imported. On another counter Dutch chocolate rests, waiting to be incorporated into pain au chocolate. The butter and chocolate are both used in these batches of croissants.

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The pair is quite capable of multitasking, they work together, but separately. Florent prepares two plates as he discusses the best places to source items. Thomas contributes as he whips up meringue for the dessert.

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Pine Island
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The Food

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Make no mistake, much more than pastry can be found in Pine Island Getaway Cafe. The focus of the cafe is directed equally towards the meals and the pastry. The pastries rotate with a variety of French treats. Serving unfamiliar tarts, chocolate éclairs, flan, and mille feuille has posed some challenges. But the use of samples quickly puts any qualms to rest.

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I am beyond eager to see what has been prepared for me. To ensure that we would have time for the interview I've been invited to dine on a Monday, when the cafe is closed. Periodically throughout our visit, potential customers approach the door. Thomas greets each one of them apologizing for the inconvenience, they reassure him they will be returning. He even sends one particularly passionate woman off with a few goodies.

Because they are closed they offered to make a special meal and dessert, asking my preferences. Having a deep love for all French food after my own experiences of working in a bakery and limited preferences I tell them to surprise me.

We make our selections from an array of high quality coffee drinks, as well as a variety of beverages such as juice. Florent prepares an iced latte, offering: almond milk, soy milk, and whipped cream as options. Returning to the front of house, Thomas brings out our meal, which he informs us is the Vol Au Vent Forestier.

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The plate consists of two main elements. There was a simple salad with mixed organic greens, sliced tomatoes, freshly shaved cheese and an olive oil based dressing. It was light and paired perfectly with the Vol au Vent. The Vol Au Vent Forestier had a perfectly crisped flaky puff pastry base topped by chicken and mushrooms prepared in a crème white wine sauce. The texture of the pastry is a result of a dough folded with no shortcuts, each paper-thin layer present. The richness of the sauce, the butter of the pastry, and the chicken, is elevated by the simplicity of the salad. The freshness speaks to the European ideals of high quality local ingredients. A portion that appeared moderate was very filling, but so deeply satisfying that one would forget they had another round of food coming. After cleaning and clearing our plates we advance to dessert.

 

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We're presented two toasted meringue swans sitting atop a glossy pool of lemon custard. These avian-esque edibles are their lemon tarts. The swans are made of a decadent marshmallow-y Italian meringue. The custard is smooth, full of citrus flavor and encased within a firm buttery crust. Every bite is consumed and we're left feeling full and content.

Bienvenue
Pine Island Getaway Cafe is the culmination of cross continental influences. It is the result of adventitious events guided by a vision and dedication. The brothers' roots in St. Martin, time in France, and inspiration found in the Philippines come together, expanding the palate of the community. The Brunet brothers welcome a challenge, they are aware continuing will not be a simple task. They await, earnest to serve and share with their new neighbors.

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Visit

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
Address: 5281 Doug Taylor Circle.
Saint James City, FL
Phone: 239.283.3602

 

From the Author:

"Some of the biggest elements that comprise my identity are my passion for politics and activism. That focus stems from my position as a queer, biracial, first-generation American. I am interested in exposing disparity within our food systems and developing sustainable solutions to food scarcity. Captured by the concept of 'critical eating', I explore an intersection of anthropology and economics. This delves into the relationship between agriculture and food production. Part of my approach consists on educating consumers on the mechanics of how we provide for ourselves. My intentions are to improve conditions and cultivate an appreciation for those who feed us. I hope contributions to Uncle Sam's will help towards the goal of uniting communities around a common table."

Authors Blog

Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar

When you walk into Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar and speak to Sirac Ergun, you can sense his passion.  Sirac is the chef and co-owner of Pera. He opened Pera in 2017 with his brother Ahmet. They are from Sanliurfa which is in eastern Turkey bordering Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Sirac and Ahmet’s long and winding journey to America took them first to Istanbul, where in 1998 they opened Oceans 7, a seafood restaurant with their 5 bothers. Sirac’s dream had always been to open a restaurant in the US so that he could share his traditions and culture. In 2000, with $100 in his pocket, he moved to the United States. He worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously in Italian, Turkish, and Kurdish restaurants gaining the knowledge and money he would need to open his very own. His hard work paid off! Ahmet joined him in 2011, and they opened Pera in May 2017 after working for 17 years at others’ restaurants.

Pera is named after a vibrant district in Istanbul full of enticing eateries. It is found on the site of a former Turkish restaurant that had been there for 30 years. The brothers worked hard to rebuild the restaurant from the ground up, both its reputation and the ambience. They faced a huge challenge in welcoming back the former patrons and appealing to a wider demographic. Fortunately for us, Sirac doesn’t shy away from any challenge.  He felt that his delicious food and excellent service would quickly bring customers in and back, and boy was he right!

Pera is located on Broadway in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Lakeview is a hip, yuppie area and one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Chicago for restaurants, with one located every few doors.  How does Pera survive and even thrive in this heated environment?  Sirac says, “Having so much competition just makes me work harder and have to be better than my competitors.”  He knows he has to differentiate, and does it so well.  He showers his guests with genuine Turkish hospitality ensuring that people walk in as customers but leave as friends.  His approach with his customers is to “break the ice” by leading with the magic of Turkey by bringing the sounds, scents, flavors and loves of a people whose roots go back for centuries.  His approach to food is to take the same dishes that other restaurants serve and make them unquestionably unique and exceptional.  For example, the hummus served is blended with red beets and the falafel is stuffed with goat cheese.  Although it takes longer, he chops the kebab meat by hand, yielding a far superior taste.  Sirac uses fresh dill.  He prepares everything on a daily basis. It is easy to see that living in America for the past 18 years has not dampened his enthusiasm for the food and culture of his homeland. While his family jokes that he has become Americanized, he really is a proud Turkish man bringing the best of his heritage to his grateful American diners.

The ambiance of the restaurant is instantaneously welcoming, warm, chic, and elegant. There is Turkish tile art on the walls and handmade light fixtures from Kutahya.  The white seats give Pera a clean feel.  Sirac and his brother didn’t always agree on the ambiance but Sirac is older so he usually won out as per Turkish cultural norms.  He wanted to make the restaurant kid friendly yet appealing to adults and welcoming to people of all cultures and backgrounds.  The current project is to renovate the upstairs which will be opening in May.  That space will be for private parties for special occasions, birthday parties, showers, and every type of private party.
FOOD – Presentation is really important to Sirac.  He wants the food to be as beautiful as it is tasty.  Everything is made fresh daily and is upscale yet warm and welcoming.

Appetizers (Mezze Selection) (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Red beet hummus:  Sirac has used a unique family recipe to make a twist on classic hummus by adding red beets. This brings a sweet flavor to the hummus and makes it stand out. Presented beautifully on a slate platter with drops of mustard. Grilled Octopus: an octopus tentacle resting on a bed of sautéed eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers.  Beyond the beautiful presentation, the grilled octopus was flavorful and extremely tender. White bean dip: blended with dill, garlic, cumin, olive oil, and paprika served with daily baked homemade bread offered complimentary to every guest. Falafel: stuffed with goat cheese served as an appetizer with a simple bed of greens and a spicy tahini sauce. Goat cheese is unique to his restaurant and not a traditional preparation of the dish. Zucchini Beignet: perfectly crispy yet moist homemade fried veggie patties with feta cheese, fresh mint and dill served with a creamy garlic yogurt sauce.

Main Course (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Manti: Turkish tortellini crossed with a dumpling, stuffed with mushroom. Light and flavorful, tender pasta with a light sauce – simply delicious Siramarsir:  zucchini stuffed with filet mignon, sautéed onions, and mixed herbs served with garlic yogurt and rice. The   beef and zucchini were perfectly cooked. You will see why this is Sirac’s favorite dish. The dill in the yogurt sauce highlighted  the sweetness of the zucchini perfectly. All the elements of the dish melded wonderfully to dance on our taste buds. Lamb Kebab: Sirac is really proud of the lamb kebabs.  He marinates them overnight.  If he doesn’t have any lamb that has adequately marinated the full 24-hours, he will take the dish off the menu for the day.  He wants them to be perfectly flavored and juicy. Hunkar: This was a favorite of Sultan Suleyman’s wife, Hurrem Sultan and definitely a favorite of ours.  Beef simmered with garlic and tomato sauce is served on a bed of pureed eggplant. The tomato sauce had a deeper and darker silkiness that was well matched to the bold flavor of the meat.

Dessert:

There was a wide array of hot beverages including Turkish tea, apple tea, and Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is cooked with the grounds and served in a small cup. The teas were all served in a beautiful clear tea cup. Kunefe:  If you want a dessert with a “wow” factor, this is for you. It delivers a succulent package, wrapped in a shredded and latticed filo dough pastry, filled with the perfect portion of mozzarella. It was served on top of a gleaming pool of syrup and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Upon further investigation with Sirac we discovered that jasmine flower is the secret weapon of this dish. This dish is simply mind blowing. Baklava: This classic dessert paired with Turkish tea combines light and flaky texture, sticky sweetness and a mild flavor similar to earl grey to produce the perfect balance of flavors. It was served with a scoop of ice cream that at first glance was vanilla but surprised the diner with bits of apricot to add complexity to the texture. The only challenge here was making room to finish it all. For an apertif we were served Raki, a Turkish anis liquor which is best had with water and ice.

Turkish Wine:

Cankaya – a light and mildly fruity white wine reminiscent of a Chardonnay. It was the perfect accompaniment to the appetizer selection. Yakut – similar to a Merlot. Not overpowering but flavorful enough to bring out the light and fun aspects of the grape.

Visit SIRAC ERGUN:

With a wonderful smile and sense of pride Sirac tells us “The dream never ends,”. He strives to open another restaurant either in downtown Chicago or Houston.  He says  “It is all about sharing – you have to grow up together to be successful”. We are so fortunate to have shared our evening with Sirac, immersing ourselves in the food and friendships of Turkey.

VISIT:

PERA TURKISH KITCHEN AND BAR
2833 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-0063

This article is a group effort by the following…

Boston based Chris A. enjoys dining out with his family as often as possible. You’ll often find him and his wife on bikes enjoying New England.

Edwin P. is a Southern California native techie and vintage video game enthusiast. He enjoys playing golf and going hiking in his free time.

Shilpa R. loves everything about food and lives in the best city for it. In her home in Portland, OR she enjoys eating out and exposing her 3 year old daughter to the weird but delicious tastes of this great food city.

Susie T. resides in Austin, TX but is originally from Chicago. She showed her passion for eating from infancy much to the shock of her mother and delight of her grandmother. She loves food of every kind and is determined to try as many different types of food as possible.