At As Evi Turkish Cuisine, Turkish kebab dreams finally within reach in Rochester | Restaurants

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Turkish cuisine and I go way back, at least in my head. That National Geographic cover story about Istanbul must have had photographs of Byzantine architecture, ancient waterways and centuries of artistic endeavors, but the glossy full-color image that stuck in my head decades later was iskender kebab.

In this famed Turkish dish, meat shaved from a rotating vertical spit is layered over toasted pita bread croutons and drenched with tomato-chile sauce and lavish amounts of melted butter, along with a drift of yogurt and grilled peppers.

Twice in my life I had gotten to experience the dish, once in Cleveland, once in Manhattan. So earlier this year, when I found out that there was a full-fledged Turkish restaurant in Rochester, I was in my car in five minutes, propelled by a hunger long denied. (I did call first, standard practice these days, because many small places can’t keep their hours updated online.)

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What I found there thrilled me, the variety of topped breads made to order, tiny dumplings called manti in garlic-yogurt sauce, and of course, iskender.

Delicious. But how Turkish was it? So I recruited a Turkish native, and went back. Which is how I can testify that As Evi Turkish Cuisine is the real deal, as well as being well worth the schlep.

Owner Selami Tulum welcomes customers to As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

Selami Tulum’s restaurant is in a strip mall next to a Turkish grocery. There’s no host presence, so go to the back of the restaurant, to the counter beside the kitchen, and ask someone for a table.

While you’re there, scan the soft drink cooler. Besides the usual soft drinks, there’s sour cherry juice and a variety of yogurt drinks; I find the salty version best with kababs. A beverage made of fermented black carrots called salgam suyu made me think of beet kombucha, packing plenty of lactic tang to pep up your palate. If that’s all beyond the pale, may I suggest Uludag, a bizarrely refreshing mineral water.

At As Evi, you can meet lots of the usual Turkish characters. Lahmacun ($4.49) is dough stretched to hubcap size and topped with a spiced minced beef flavored with chiles and onions, served with lemon wedges. It comes out floppy and is often rolled or folded to eat on the go.

Lahmacun at As Evi Turkish Cuisine

Lahmacun at As Evi Turkish Cuisine. Lahmacun is a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced meat, minced vegetables and herbs  including onions, garlic, tomatoes, red peppers and parsley – and spices – chili pepper and paprika – and then baked.

James P. McCoy

Pide is another fresh flatbread, slightly thicker, more canoe-shaped with turned-up sides to keep the fillings in, whether cheese, mushroom, egg, meat or combinations. They’re sometimes called “Turkish pizza” but pide has a much lower dough-to-payload ratio, meaning less bread, more filling.

Patatesli pide ($10.99) packs mashed potatoes, peppers, garlic and cheese, for a stuffed-potato upgrade. Pastirmali pide ($15.99) sees the cheese topped with sliced pastrami that comes out frizzled from the oven. Karisik pide ($15.99) is the meat-lover’s special (Turkish pastrami, sausage, ground beef, cheese).

Hummus at As Evi Turkish Cuisine

A plate of hummus  mashed chick peas blended with fresh garlic, tahini and herbs  at As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

Coban salatasi, shepherd salad ($8.99 large), is a refreshing blend of fresh chopped cucumber, tomato, parsley, green bell pepper and onion. Cacik, cold cucumber yogurt salad ($3.49), is tzatziki’s lighter cousin.

Sandwiches are always better in bread made moments ago. Exhibit A: As Evi sandwiches ($7.99), centering shaved beef doner, ground beef, spicy ground beef or chicken, packed with lettuce, onion, tomato and garlic sauce.

Kebabs are served over rice, with grilled peppers and tomatoes. Beef versions include adana ($13.99) beef with red peppers; kofte ($13.99) seasoned ground beef; beyti ($16.99) spicy garlic beef; shish ($16.99) marinated beef chunks.

Chicken kebab at As Evi Turkish Cuisine

Chicken kebab is one of the most popular entrees at As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

James P. McCoy

Yogurtlu kebabs ($16.99-$17.99) are adana, doner or shish kababs getting a bed of toasted pita croutons to rest on, and a blanket of garlic yogurt to comfort them.

Ezo gelin ($4.99), red lentil soup, was hearty and homey. I was intrigued to note the description of the other soup, kelle paca ($6.99). “Ask your server for details please,” the menu said. My Turkish friend made a face at the name, but our server, Suleyman, Selami’s son, said it was his favorite, that his mother made it for him when he got sick.

Made of a lamb’s head, it tasted like beef butter soup with lamb huskiness. Then at Suleyman’s direction, I dropped in the shot of minced garlic in vinegar. In an instant, I was with Suleyman on Team Paca. What a glorious dance of richness and vigorous tang, somehow once both mellow and rousing.

Kababs and baklava at As Evi Turkish Cuisine

Head cook Mahmoud Sardar displays chicken kebab and baklava at As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

Housemade manti ($16.99) are the smallest dumplings I’ve ever seen, cranberry size. Inside is a pinch of ground beef, outside garlicky yogurt, and spiced clarified butter. Bless the cook’s hands, they were comforting as a hug.

For dessert, consider kunefe ($7.99). An ancient dessert of salty cheese in shredded phyllo dough is baked until molten and crispy-sided, then doused with syrup and sliced, creating some intense cheese-pull action.

Baklava at As Evi Turkish Cuisine

A plate of baklava at As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

Service might seem a bit poky, but the folks here care, and your patience will be rewarded.

It’s worth it to experience one of the world’s great cuisines, brought within striking distance by Selami and his crew. Besides, take it from me: Hunger makes the best sauce. If nothing else, one trip to Rochester will rearrange your definition of Turkish delight.

Find Turkish delights at As Evi Turkish Cuisine in Rochester

The entrance to As Evi Turkish Cuisine.

315 E. Ridge Road, Rochester,, 585-544-0101

Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday

Prices: appetizers $2.49-$9.99, lahmacun and pide $4.49-$16.99, entrees $13.99-$21.99

Atmosphere: family casual

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free: salads, some kababs on rice

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