Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

The soft lighting and tasteful decor at Anatolia Turkish Restaurant 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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant
Anatolia Turkish Restaurant
Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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…

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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!

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

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.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

“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.

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

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

Ital Kitchen

Ital Kitchen

A red door and a pink patio announce the small, Caribbean-style eatery on Union Street in the midst of the shops, corner stores and brownstones in Brooklyn, New York. The emerald green siding and painted cement patio recall the vibrant island culture where chef Michael Gordon finds his roots.

Ital Kitchen
Gordon, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, began cooking around the age of 6 or 7 out of necessity for himself and his sister when their family lived in the rural Jamaican countryside. “We didn’t have a refrigerator or anything, so we just had to cook food every day, what we grew from the ground.” He moved to New York 30 years ago at the age of 15, following his mother to Queens to find himself in a world of new people and a different culture. When he first moved to Queens, he explains that at first he struggled to fit in and adapt to the American language, much different than Jamaican patois – sometimes called “broken English,” spoken in a strong accent with grammatical influences, language structure, words and phrases borrowed from several African and other languages. “After about a year, I started running with the other Jamaicans and it was all good,” Chef Gordon continues, and says that he also spent time with his Uncle who is a member of the 12 Tribes of Israel order of Rastafari. The experiences with him brought him to cooking Ital, and since then his love and appreciation for the food has grown. “I love how Ital food makes you feel, … once you stop eating the stressed-out animals, and switch to a plant based diet, you become more positive.” Ital food (pronounced eye- taal) comes from Caribbean Rastafarian culture, a stylized form of the word “vital.” Ital food is traditionally pescatarian or vegan, free of synthetic chemicals and preservatives, and full of beneficial herbs, spices and nutritious fruits and vegetables. True to Rastafari, Gordon states “Positivity starts with your food; When you start to rebel, food is where you start.”

To understand Ital cuisine, one must understand Rastafari. Rastafari began as a religiopolitical movement among the oppressed and poverty-stricken people of the slums of Jamaica in the 1930s. As a religion Rastafari holds Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia, to be the second coming of the messiah, Africa to be the spiritual homeland of all Blacks, and the Holy Bible to be the only true word of God, or Jah. As a culture Rastafari celebrates love, unity, respect, African culture such as drums, language, art and spirituality, and natural, sustainable living. It is born from a Caribbean culture that is a mix of African, European, Native American and East Indian influences, and as such Ital food represents a meatless, all-natural take on Caribbean food.
Ital Kitchen
I visited Ital Kitchen BK around noon on a Friday in January for a healthy, vegan lunch. I walked in to the one-room establishment to find a beautiful interior, its small size typical of a New York business. The walls are painted a vibrant violet hue, decorated with African paintings and wooden carvings and masks. Gordon stood at the stainless-steel counter in the rear of the room chopping vegetables, the kitchen area sectioned off by shoulder height rice-paper folding dividers. He invited me to sit anywhere I liked. I took my place at a small table next to a short pink book shelf and a painting of Reggae legend Peter Tosh. I gave a nod to the Stepping Razor, and examine the book on the shelf – a collection of cook books in between cultural and sociopolitical works like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Nelson Mandela’s “Conversations With Myself,” as well as a book on natural healing through food.

Ital Kitchen

Gordon strolled over to my table and greeted me with the Rasta phrase “Yes I,” and placed a bright blue glass in front of me and a large glass bottle of ice cold water. He handed me the menu and let me know me he was now cooking food from the lunch section, and suggested to me the ‘Lunch Box Special’ of the day: Jerked “chicken” (tofu strips) and zucchini. I spent a few minutes looking over the single-page menu, its simple and effective format offering an array of tasty dishes, drinks and sides but not an overwhelming amount. The lunch menu – served 11am to 3pm – is smaller than the dinner menu, with savory and convenient choices like the Jerk “Chicken” Burrito with sautéed onions, peppers, and brown rice and the Mushroom Burrito with shiitake mushrooms, sautéed peppers, onions, and rice as well as avocado and black beans. I decided to order the Lunch Box Special, and also the soup of the day, which was a spinach soup.

While I waited for my food, I enjoyed the crisp taste of water served in glass, appreciating the absence of plastic in Gordon’s restaurant. I took some time to look over the rest of the menu, and saw an array of flavorful, unique Ital dishes. Mickey Lee’s BK Chow Mein caught my eye, a serving of Asian noodles with red cabbage, carrots, and peas, a marker of the diversity of Gordon’s menu. Right under that I saw the IK Veggie Burger, a vegan spin on the American food classic with sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas, mushrooms and lettuce. The Turmeric Stew was a savory, spicy choice that made me wish I had come four hours later during the dinner menu. I dreamed of the hearty dish of potatoes, carrots, roasted corn, and coconut milk. The drink menu was equally diverse ad colorful, with natural beverages like Turmerical Ting – made from turmeric, ginger, lemon, and apple – and acai, sea moss and mango Yes I! offering rejuvenating tropical flavors and nutrients to accompany the main dishes.

Having read the Kitchen’s slogan “We Cook Slow!” online, I was prepared for an extended wait for my food after I gave Gordon my order. To my delight, before 15 minutes had passed Gordon was placing a steaming plate of “chicken” and zucchini in an aromatic brown jerk sauce on the table, accompanied by a small bowl of wild rice and the vegetable soup. I thanked Gordon for my food, and took my first bite of the Jerk.

I was immediately surprised by the satisfying texture of the tofu shreds. As any vegetarian understands, soy meat substitutes are typically rubbery and are not very flavor absorbent, but such was not the case with Gordon’s vegan chicken. The scraps were chewy to an ideal extent, and had fully absorbed the essence of the sauce. The zucchini complimented the strips excellently, adding a fresh crunch to the savory dish. I moved on to the rice, and took a small pile of the firm, separate grains on the tip of my fork. The steam from the tan and brown long cut cereal carried an earthy scent, and the flavor was simple and earthy, the texture slightly al dente as it is in most Afro rice preparations. The soup was also a simple, complimentary dish: spinach with small slivers of potato and onion in a thin vegetable broth. It tasted of fresh spinach leaves, with the subtle taste of onion and spices. My two basic, modest sides created a fulfilling solid backdrop for the spicy, robust tastes of the jerk “chicken” and zucchini, and left me wanting for nothing. Finished with my food analysis, I dumped my rice into the plate of jerk, mixed it all together, and enjoyed a warm, healthy and filling meal.

Ital Kitchen BK
1032 Union St. Brooklyn, NY.
Phone # 347-405-9727

You can find more information on Instagram @italkitchenbk.