click to enlarge bartlettimage-turkish_bar_and_grill-9889.jpg

Photo via Robert Bartlett

At Altamonte’s Turkish Bar and Grill, kebabs delight 

Doner deal

Midway through gorging on a meat-filled mixed grill platter, we stopped to applaud the Turkish Bar and Grill's eye-rollingly good doner meat. Our server, hearing us heap praise on the shaved kebab, proudly proclaimed that the 70/30 lamb-beef mix was made on the premises, and not shaved from a fat-heavy pre-bought cone of mystery protein. This doner was legit, and quit it we couldn't, as were other meats in the customized platter ($46.97) – namely boldly spiced ground lamb adana, perfectly charred lamb chops and succulent chicken shish. Only dryish cubes of beef shish had us showing a modicum of restraint, but then mounds of rice and bulgur, pickled cabbage and onions, and a bottom layer of bread soaked in meat juice effectively held our attentions. This was Turkish cuisine grilled down to its very essence, and owner Yalcin Aykin's from-scratch doner buoyed our spirits. Which was a good thing because, frankly, our spirits needed a little reassurance.

When we entered the restaurant shortly after 7 p.m. on a weekday night, our server was seated eating dinner with another server. In no great hurry, she greeted us, grabbed some menus, dropped one on the floor and left it there, then led us through the spacious dining room, where more than a few burnt-out bulbs caught our eyes. A pre-meal order of Turkish tea ($1.50) wasn't served with sugar cubes (as is traditional), and when we ordered an appetizer of stuffed grape leaves ($9.99), we were told they were out of the staple meze. Not a great initial impression, but Aykin et al did come correct, first with an order of spinach and feta pide ($14.99) – as doughy and delectable a flatbread as you ever will eat – then with a serving of stuffed white cabbage ($14.99). Braced with mint, parsley, garlic and sweet peppers, the two corpulent rolls filled with ground beef and rice quickly erased any lingering thoughts of, what were they again? Oh, stuffed grape leaves.

You shouldn't fail to order the lavas ($3.99), then dip shreds from the hot-air balloon of sesame-flecked bread into hummus baked with butter ($7.99) and topped with cheese (99 cents extra). It's a curious "house specialty," this baked hummus, one that didn't exactly blow us away, yet that didn't stop us from scooping every last bit of it.

Chances are you'll come away from your meal stuffed to the proverbial hilt, but shunning an order of kunefe ($9.99), the pastry fashioned from phyllo threads, soft white cheese and syrup, would be a shame. The TVs in the restaurant air what appear to be tourist board vids of Turkey, and, at one point, there's a clip of someone making the popular dessert from scratch. If that isn't enticing enough to place an order, know that, by my estimation, it's the best kunefe in town, thanks to a crust that's buttery and delicately charred. Honestly, neither my dining comrade nor I thought we'd be able to eat more than a bite of it (like most dishes here it, too, is filling), but leaving any of it on the plate was not an option. While our visit may have gotten off on the wrong foot, we sure as hell left with a spring in our step.

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