Get Your Turk On at Cafe Efendi
I wouldn’t exactly make Alpharetta my first choice location when looking for a spot to give a Turkish restaurant a go. But owner Suheyl Hal Buran of Cafe Efendi (488 N Main St #112, Alpharetta, Tel: 770.360.8014) saw the possibilities, and took a chance.
Buran’s food turned out to be a hit with minivan soccer moms — who knew? — scoring him plenty of good press.
And the rest is history.
I call his cooking Turkish but Buran claims his cuisine comes from the “Ottoman Kitchen.” He is of course referring to the Ottoman Empire that ruled a large portion of Eastern Europe and Western Asia for nearly 600 years.
He started his restaurant right in the middle of downtown Alpharetta where La Casa currently resides, but Buran thought a move would be wise. So, he took over after the Irish pub Durty Kelly’s closed its doors several years ago, just a mile or so to the north.
The ambience is practically perfect at the current digs, and so is the food. I can honestly say that just about everything I’ve sampled from the menu has impressed in some way.
Those of you who read my “Must Try 33 Dishes” article last month will remember I included Cafe Efendi’s falafels among the northside’s elite dishes. These silver dollar-sized chickpea patties are what I call Turkish-style falafels, and they arrive with a thin crispy outer coating and mushy, coriander-laced interior. Think fried mashed potatoes but with flavor. Big flavor.
Speaking of big flavor, the lamb burger, a recently added menu item, slathered with jajiki sauce (aka tzatziki) can be cooked to the spice level of your liking. Other additions to the menu are sort of fusiony like spaghetti & meatballs and some are straight up good old-fashioned American offerings, such as ribeye steak.
Despite the new menu items, I still find myself ordering the dishes that originally lured me in. Those falafels and the doner kebabs — lamb and beef pieces thinly sliced off the spit, and served over a bed of rice. I drag those finely seasoned crispy pieces of meat through a cold plate of garlic yogurt with shredded cucumber (suzme jajik) and perform the same task to cool a spicy ground lamb kebab (adana sis kebab).
It’s fun to mix small plates with bigger portions, so pile a little of each on a pita triangle. Blop a spoonful of tabbuleh salad over that spicy ground lamb after swiping it through the yogurt sauce; and find out for yourself how a crunchy cucumber, fresh mint and garlicky yogurt can take this red-stained meat to the next level. There are no rules, simply mix and match until you find the right notes. I believe that’s Mediterranean food the way it was meant to be eaten.
Arguably, the “must try” dish from Buran’s Ottoman kitchen is dessert. It is extremely rare that we feature a dessert photo to go with an article, and even rarer for my 8-year old daughter to call something that isn’t chocolate “The best dessert on earth.”
But the baklava is definitely worthy and according to my research — definitely Turkish. It is a transcending experience the way it melts in your mouth; first the layers, then the honey and crumbled pistachios. Sweetened with honey, not sugar.
Whether you call the cuisine at Cafe Efendi “Ottoman Kitchen,” “Turkish,” or anything else you think up it really doesn’t matter — it’s good eating and that’s all that really matters.