Friday, January 22, 2010

Anatolian Gyro: It just hits the spot - every time

By Marshall Slater

Long before Turkish cuisine became popular or even, dare we say, fashionable, Anatolian Gyro was packing in the crowds. It started modestly enough…a hole in the wall, which mainly attracted the riders from the bustling subway station a half block away. The window opened onto Sheepshead Bay Road and people walking by would inevitably get a whiff of the scents or spy the massive round of meat slowly roasting on the open spit, and they would give it a shot. Then they would just come back again…and again…and again.

It was good…in fact, it was very good. And it was different.

So it was something of a local secret that was very well shared.

But then the Village Voice had a short piece about just how good this tiny take-out joint was, and the lines got bigger, still. But that was a while ago…probably close to a decade; Anatolian Gyro opened in 1994.

It was about that time that I tried the place. I worked a couple of blocks away and was tired of getting pizza everyday, so I ventured out and tried a chicken kebab. It was good…I mean really good. You know how something just hits the spot; it’s not fancy, it’s not elaborate, but it’s really good. So you have it again and figure it won’t be quite as good as your first experience. But it was.

And then a while later, I tried the mixed eggplant salad. Not even sure why I tried this particular item. I think part of it was the fact that it sounded reasonably healthy and it was something like $3 for a large container. Well, that was good too…again, very good. They mash up the eggplant, which is lightly fried so it gets very tender, add just the right seasonings, which offer contrasting and complementing tastes, then serve it up with a nice loaf of fresh Turkish bread hot off the open grill. I must say, it immediately converted me into a die-hard fan.

And so it was that for the next 10 years or so, I found myself perusing through the menu and ordering from them two or three times a week. I never got tired of it, and the quality and taste, which attracted me in the first place, never wavered. Yes, the prices rose a little, but that’s life.

And it wasn’t just for lunch during the workday that I went…on days off, or after work, when I wanted an enjoyable dinner, I would pick up a big bag of goodies to bring home, and everyone loved those nights.

Truth is, the only reason I stopped eating there was that about a year ago our offices moved to the opposite end of Brooklyn and, even for a very loyal customer, that’s a bit too far for delivery.

Somewhere along those years it soon became apparent that my sentiments were shared by many. And it wasn’t long before that that the hole in the wall expanded, and then expanded again, and today Anatolian Gyro still not only sports a very busy take out counter, but a full dining room frequently filled with clientele, who now extend far beyond Sheepshead Bays’ borders.

Still owned and operated by Metin and his cousin, Ekrem (yes, they are actually Turkish), the place is still very much a family owned and operated business where the many lures which brought me into the place initially, and kept me a fan for years, are still quite intact. So let’s take an in-depth look into the food that has kept me sated for years, and whose menu I have extolled personally long before this public review.

Turkish food is, in many ways, the best of all worlds…at least as rendered by Anatolian Gyro: satisfying in taste and amount, easy on the budget, relatively guilt free in terms of diet and nutrition, and varied enough to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

Perhaps the most important distinction, however, is that while the menus at many Turkish/gyro restaurants are quite similar, the end result is quite disparate. The preparation at Anatolian involves subtlety of tastes and spices, grilling and combinations, succulence and flavoring; simple dishes become delicious and you just can’t go wrong.

A salad or side dish as common in ingredients as the Shepherd’s Salad is a good case in point. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and onions are dived up, sprinkled with fresh parsley, and then seasoned with a very specific blend of vinegar and oil or, as I prefer, just some fresh lemon juice. The end result is so much better than the perceived banality of the ingredients. Perhaps it is the freshness of the veggies or the mix of the herbs and spices…but the end result is intensely satisfying.

It is as satisfying as a plateful of juicy, slightly edged-seared lamb carved from the spit, but if your ambition was to enjoy your lunch while eliminating calories and fat, you won’t go wrong here…nor will you if you order the lamb gyro and put some Shepherd’s salad on the side.

The standard Middle Eastern spreads are exceptional here. All are freshly made from scratch…the humus, or the babaghanouj, the latter mashed from whole eggplants, which are first grilled over open charcoal and then pureed, combined with tahini and garlic — all first rate because of the careful addition of spices and herbs. They don’t have that industrial taste, which is all too common elsewhere…and equal praise goes onto the fresh falafel balls, which are made when ordered, not left lying around to be fried again hours later. The fact that the stuff comes with that excellent Turkish bread — miniature whole loaves, which are super crunchy around the exterior and delightfully soft when you rip them open, very slightly glazed with butter — doesn’t hurt either.

The tabouleh salad, freshly made from scratch, is a mix of cracked wheat, crunchy rounds of scallions, parsley and tomato with fresh lemon juice. There are the excellent grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs with a delicate skin and a white bean salad, made from enormous beans which are the star ingredient with minced red peppers, parsley and onions with a light dressing.

Soups are recommended every season…during the winter they are mandatory. The Lentil Soup, with its burnt orange hue, starts with red lentils mashed into a puree, then cooked with mint, tomato paste and a touch of flour. The final yield is a silken broth. Fresh mushroom soup gets the thumbs up of patrons, as do the two versions of chicken soup. Both the spicy and the regular varieties are teeming with generous chunks of fresh and tender white meat chicken; the former broth is enhanced with jalapeno, fresh tomato, garlic and onion; the latter comes with chunks of carrots, celery and very finely chopped onion, which dissolves into the broth. These are so good even the most finicky kid will like them.

Both versions of the eggplant salad have become staples of my diet, either one scooped up with big ripped off hunks of the Turkish bread. Have it sitting next to you in the car and you may find yourself lapping it up, canine style, while you’re driving (this is no endorsement for eating while driving you understand…pull over and indulge your private habits). The Grilled Eggplant starts whole, where it is slowly grilled over the charcoal fire. The skin is then completely peeled off and the pieces then marinated with oil, lemon, garlic and a touch of salt…to which is then added tomato and parsley. The Mixed Eggplant starts off as cubes which are fried with long hot peppers, garlic oil and tomatoes and then all cooked together. Now it all sounds simple enough, but pizza all starts with the same three ingredients as well…but the intricacies of the amounts and the combinations is what separates the mundane from the extraordinary, and such is the case here.

They hit upon a formula, understood its popularity, and have stayed true to it ever since.

As for the main entrees, there are really three variations on the themes of chicken and lamb: kebabs, gyro or adana. If you make a mistake in ordering it really doesn’t matter…you’ll like whatever arrives equally well.

The gyro is the meat on the slow vertical rotisserie. A combination of ground lamb and beef or, alternately, layers of specially marinated chicken breast, are wrapped around a great vertical spit, which continuously turns while being grilled by flames on all sides. The charcoal flames don’t touch the meat, but gently and very slowly cook it so the meat becomes incredibly tender, which facilitates the fat dripping away. The dish or sandwich is then created by slicing thin strips of the meat from the spit as it turns. Of course the meats are first spiced so that the tastes are uniform throughout. So at any given time part of the meat in your sandwich or on your plate is slightly seared and other slices as juicy as can be. It’s very good and you’ll soon understand why it has earned a popularity around the city in a relatively few short years.

The kebabs are thick cubes of lamb or chicken meat, which are also thoroughly marinated and then lanced on skewers. When ordered, the skewers are removed from the refrigerator and placed on the open charcoals to be cooked. I have never — underscore never — had a piece of grizzle or fat. The meat is succulent and satisfying, served with a white creamy dill-yogurt sauce or a red hot sauce; both have their merits. The keys here are knowing just the right marinade to addict you, and just how long to keep the meat on the grill, which is kept freshly glowing, so the skin burns ever so slightly on the edges but is cooked thoroughly and allowed to remain juicy. Think of the analogy with a steak you cook at home and one cooked in the kitchens of Peter Luger…same hunk of meat…very different end result. You’ll really like this place.

The third variation on the theme is the adana, which sees the lamb or chicken (always white, meat incidentally) finely chopped and then carefully seasoned with a blending of herbs and spices, then shaped into long thick patties, which are then grilled over the open flame.

The meat, the charcoal, the spices, the marinades, the scents and flavors all coalesce into this wonderful sandwich or entrée and before you know it you are hooked. It is as deceptively simple as this.

Most everything is accompanied with fresh onions, and you can be an insider if you make sure to ask for some sumac, a coarse purple powder condiment made from the plant of the same name, which is like a universal flavoring, enhancing some tastes and muting others (like onion, in which the addition of the spice takes away the sharpness).

Most main dishes are also served with rice, a special long grain variety which has its own excellent taste and also absorbs the tastes of the ingredients heaped over or around it.

As for dessert, the rice pudding is in a realm all its own…it emerges cold with a thick layer of skin across the top from the whole milk. It is prepared with baking rice, milk and sugar. If you think you know what rice pudding is supposed to taste like, be prepared for an awakening when you sample this version. There’s also homemade baklava, drenched and dripping in honey, plus a pistachio roll, with phyllo dough so thin it melts when it hits your mouth. And if you can’t decide, get all three and add one of the little chocolate mousse cakes that they get from Michael’s Bakery on Avenue R, one of the few things they don’t prepare in their own kitchen.

Anatolian Gyro
1605 Sheepshead Bay Road, 718-769-7474
Hours: Open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

There is free delivery within a mile radius, but if you’re ordering for four or five, they deliver across most of southern Brooklyn, from Canarsie to Bay Ridge (just make sure about order minimums if you live a distance from the restaurant).

Private parties are accommodated both on and off premises; outside catering is a specialty.

Most major credit cards are accepted.


Unknown January 22, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

no doubt that this is the best gyro joint in brooklyn if not nyc. they are fantastic.

Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP