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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 Turkish restaurant 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 Turkish restaurant. 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 a Turkish restaurant 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, which is exactly what one wants in an authentic Turkish restaurant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MEET 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, saying, “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.
PERA TURKISH KITCHEN AND BAR
2833 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657
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.