The canvas print of the Maiden's Tower at the entrance of Beyti Mediterranean Grill may hang askance, but don't let it fool you. Like the iconic island landmark at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait, the Turkish food at this Casselberry restaurant is straight-up impressive.
Much of it is prepped and cooked by Yalcin Aykin, the man behind the justifiably applauded, and now-shuttered, Turkish Bar & Grill. The dishes at that Altamonte Springs restaurant were eye-rollingly good simply because the 65-year-old Aykin is one helluva cook, and not one to phone it in with premade ingredients and recipe shortcuts.
Sure, setting up shop in the old Rolando's Cuban Restaurant space may seem like a step down compared to the old Altamonte venue, but try and look past all that. If you're dining inside the spacious (and oft empty) restaurant, have a seat, order the sesame-specked lavash ($3.99) and rip shreds of the doughy dirigible into such dips as the fiery ezme ($4.99), sauteed eggplant ($4.99) or creamy haydari ($4.99), a garlicky yogurt blended with walnuts. And if you're getting takeout, do the same. No stale flavors; no dull visuals; no regrets.
I do regret, however, not going to the famed Beyti restaurant in Istanbul when I was there three years ago. It's where the beyti kebab — loins of lamb wrapped in lamb fat, then charcoal-grilled — originated.
Thing is, this version isn't really served anywhere else. In fact, at most Turkish restaurants around the world, including this one, beyti kebab ($11.99) amounts to ground seasoned lamb rolled in thin lavash, cut into pieces, then slathered in tomato sauce and yogurt. It's fine, not my favorite, but just once I'd like to see a riff on the original version served at a Turkish restaurant. That said, the other marinated meat wonders Aykin fashions are so worth the splurge.
We ordered shish kebab ($12.99), lamb chops ($15.99) and ground chicken adana ($11.99), which Aykin served to us on a large chopping board along with pickled red cabbage, a cucumber-tomato-onion salad and French fries. He even threw in cubes of chicken shish kebab and a side of crispy rice and, really, it was hard picking a favorite. The glorious char on the chops may have edged it over the others, but the plush beef and the spiced adana got us caveman-ravenous. The chicken adana, BTW, makes a fine lunch wrap ($8.99), as does the gyro ($8.99) with its mix of lamb and beef.
Other lunchtime (and appetizer) considerations: lahmacun ($9.99), a thin, crackly flatbread topped with seasoned ground beef, peppers, parsley, tomatoes and onions; and pide ($11.99), Turkey's answer to "Name a cheesy, doughy, boat-shaped pastry that tastes like pizza." My dining comrade proclaimed his allegiance to pide over pizza after sinking his teeth into one draped with sucuk, or Turkish sausage. Holds up great the following day, too.
But Aykin happens to be fairly accomplished in the sweets department as well — try his superb kunefe ($6.99) or kemalpasa ($5.99), cheesy cookie balls soaked in a sweet syrup. He brought out a sample for me to try while I waited for takeout during an evening run, along with some Turkish tea.
What can I say? The man is one of the most gracious restaurateurs you'll meet. He loves to cook, and he loves to feed, so don't be surprised if you leave Beyti feeling like a stuffed turkey.