3983 Worth Ave., Columbus, OH 43219, (614) 473-9144
WHAT: Café Istanbul stands tucked in the metropolis of the Easton Town Center, the eatery itself metropolitan, yet old-world and a welcoming respite from the throngs of shoppers who descend on this mecca every day. Unlike other dining spots at Easton, this café transports you to the thriving avenues of the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. We took a seat at the bar to have a glimpse around. Flickering chandeliers, exotic wares, and domed stone columns bursting in hues of gold and burnt sienna all give life to the café’s Mediterranean essence. Our experience began with a sip of Yeni Raki, or lion’s milk, an anise drink that comes presented in an icy tin of water.
WHO: Café Istanbul has been branched out to all corners of Columbus. Owner
Fatih Gunal opened the first spot in 2004 on Bethel Road, and it’s still thriving today. The Turkish restaurant has always been at Easton, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Fatih came on board and made it his own. Business has been doing well at another one of his cafés, in Bexley, opened last year. And, Fatih even has a new location opening in Dublin in just a few weeks.
WHERE: Find this locale on the north (Morse Road) end of Easton. It’s right in front of Nordstrom, which has a huge parking lot, so you’ll have no problem finding a spot.
WHEN: This café is open all days, perfect for the tuckered shopper. With spring upon us, take a seat on the patio
out back. Hours at this establishment are: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.- 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
THE TEST: We were ushered to a nearby booth cozily tucked into an enclave and had the pleasure of discussing with manager Turin Yayla what the kitchen had in store for us that evening. We enjoyed warm, crusty Turkish bread, similar to ciabatta, while we listened, dipping it into fruity-rich olive oil with sundried tomatoes.
One could write a book on the qualities and characteristics of the appetizer sampler we had. It’s been featured in various magazines; you may have seen a picture of it: a colossal plate with
honking hefts of vibrantly colored dips and spreads. Plus, the plate comes in two sizes and can feed up to 5 people. We paired it with Yakut Turkish red wine, which tasted deliciously spicy and similar to Zinfandel.
Cataloging the many tastes of this sampler as we went along was great fun: Grape leaves, great texture and sweet from the addition of raisins; Cacik, thick yogurt with cucumbers, dill and garlic; Pinto beans, with diced potatoes, tomato and olive oil; Ezme, finely chopped tomatoes, onion and powerful peppers; Taboli, very fresh tasting and loaded with veggies and cilantro; Eggplant, unique tasting with house-made tomato sauce; Baba ghanoush, their blend wonderfully smoky; and hummus, which we liked because it was nuttier with not as much garlic as one would expect. Of course, we went to our bread bowl to scoop these things up. We also insisted on trying one of the house soups: Red Lentil, pureed with garlic, celery, carrots and onions – very comforting.
There are grill items galore here, kebab after kebab. We got to sample several of them, all lined up for us on a platter. There are two minced-meat skewers you’ll find here; they’re called Adana Kebabs, chicken and lamb. We loved the tender texture and bold seasoning of these. We plucked at the Traditional Shish Kebabs next, huge chunks tasting chewy and gamey rich, before moving on to the Chicken Kebabs, delicious just as well. The topper, though, was the Doner Kebab, with hand-carved, gyro-style meat. We loved the Turkish Baldo rice that accompanies these kebab plates. It’s a bit sticky and has a delicate effervescence to it. Wash down these meats with Efes beer. It’s the Turkish lager of the house.
It’s not all about kebabs here; there are numerous specialty dishes, such as Mousakka and Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, but we wanted to get busy with desserts. Chef Serdal Gumal sat down with us a bit to share his history. When we told him how remarkably juicy the baklava was, he told us that’s how it’s supposed to be. He mentioned Turks and Greeks often argue about who makes the better
baklava and coffee. We’re not sure about Greek coffee, but the Turkish coffee here is not to be missed. It’s espresso-like in some ways, but has a unique taste and texture; it seemed almost chewy.
Let us not forget the puddings we spooned into; they were unique treats as well. We found the Almond Pudding spongy-like with crunchy almond slivers throughout and a hint of cherry from almond extract. The Rice Pudding tasted creamier and bursted with cinnamon flavor. It was tough to leave. We loved our booth and could have remained nestled and noshing on another appetizer sampler and more.