We’re big fans of so-called “Mediterranean” food, no matter from where in the Mediterranean it comes. Some dishes, like hummus, falafel and kebabs, though, of course, recipes and styles differ, are pretty much universal from Casablanca to Istanbul.
But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Little Rock, and particularly west Little Rock, has been going through a Mediterranean restaurant boom over the last few years, and one of the most recent boomers is Anatolia Mediterranean Restaurant, which opened a couple of months ago in the Colonnade Shopping Center on Bowman Road.
Anatolia serves Mediterranean food with a distinct Turkish accent, reflected in the name of the restaurant - Anatolia, once the Greek name for Asia Minor, is now the Asian part of eastern and southeastern Turkey that borders Georgia, Armenia and Iraq - and in the Turkish dish names (like Cacik, Yaprak Sarmasi, Sigara Boregi, Doner, etc.).
It’s practically just around the corner from Kebab House on West Markham Street (what started out as a Turkish-Tunisian hybrid has since, we’re told, lost the Tunisian part of its partnership). And it’s in relatively close proximity to both Little Rock locations of the Taziki’s mini-chain; the newly opened Little Greek Restaurant in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center on Cantrell Road, just a few doors down from the Turkish restaurant Istanbul; the venerable Terrace, where Rodney Parham and Hinson roads intersect; and the 800-pound gorilla of Mediterranean restaurants, both west Little Rock locations of Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria.
Is it good enough to survive that formidable competition? Or, putting it another way, are there even enough customers for this type of cuisine to divide among so many similar establishments?
Foodwise, the folks who run Anatolia can hold their heads pretty high. What we ate is at least on par with those of most of its rivals. Service, though, needs some work.
There’s a lot of traffic at that end of the Bowman Road strip center that on the other end housed Bruno’s Little Italy for more than two decades and now houses the completely unconnected Bruno’s Italian Bistro. But it’s almost entirely folks trooping in and out of the next-door Little Caesars Pizza outlet. (We’re guessing it’s depressing, watching all those people pass by your storefront. Though some at least stop and check out the double-sided special board out front. And a couple of folks, while we were there, came in and asked for menus.)
Business at Anatolia appears to be building, but, well, very slowly. On our first visit, we were the only occupied table in the place for more than half an hour. On our second visit, there was one other table. On our third, there were three other tables.
The decor is attractive in a pastel green sort of way; that’s the color of the walls, which are dotted with Turkish travel photos and posters. Bamboo matting and sturdy silverware wrapped in cloth napkins sit up on the acrylic-coated wood tables with practical, red-padded wooden chairs. Turkish music either slithers or whines, depending on the style of the song, through the sound system.
Unlike our experiences at other Turkish restaurants, the Anatolia folks refreshingly don’t insist that there is some significant difference between doner and gyros. (If there is a difference, it’s apparently how the meat is spiced, because otherwise nobody we know is able to tell ’em apart. They’re both carved off a saddle mounted on a vertical spit.) Anatolia’s menu says quite plainly “Beef Doner (Gyro),” which covers the issue as far as we’re concerned.
The menu is also very good at providing familiar references to Turkish-named dishes, and provides pretty close to full descriptions of what you’re going to find on your plate, although we did encounter a couple of things we weren’t quite expecting.
Absolutely do not pass up Anatolia’s excellent Hummus ($3.49), a dip of slightly coarse-ground chickpeas, fresh lemon juice, just the right amount of minced garlic, olive oil and tahini (a sesame paste). We didn’t, alas, get any additional pita bread to dip with than came out, like most restaurants serve bread (and with a couple of butter pats), as part of the sit down package, but there was enough that we didn’t have the need to employ a utensil to clean our plate.
We can at least partially recommend the Sigara Boregi (Cigar Pastry, $4.49), flaky phyllo flutes filled with a feta-mozzarella blend that is a big step up from the blah, food-service mozzarella sticks too prevalent on local menus.
From the menu description - “Yogurt with cucumber and garlic” - we were expecting something like tzatziki when we ordered the Cacik ($3.49). What we got was a bowl of what is essentially a cold cucumber-yogurt-garlic soup. We weren’t disappointed, though; it’s delicious.
Speaking of soups, don’t pass up Anatolia’s Lentil ($3.49), tiny, perceptible chunks of lentil in a surprisingly smooth broth that reminded us a little of avgolemono, a Greek egg/lemon soup. And if you don’t order it as an appetizer, most of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, so have some that way and save a little money.
Speaking of Beef Doner, we got a big pile of it on our $11.99 dinner plate (Chicken Doner is 50 cents less), with a large quantity of subtly but pleasantly flavored rice, tomatoes, pepperoncini and/or sour pickle slices and a cup of tzatziki - Anatolia’s slightly tart version also has a goodly amount of garlic.
It’s also the basis for the Iskender Kebab ($13.49), another huge portion of sliced, spiced beef slathered in butter and a rich tomato sauce served over buttered pita bread. It’s the richest, possibly tastiest and certainly the most buttery version of this dish we’ve tried. A side chunk of tart Turkish sour cream nicely balanced the mild spices in the sauce.
We hit upon the Mixed Grill Kebap (for some reason the Turkish spelling has crept in; $15.99 for one, $24.99 for two) as the perfect way to sample a handful of menu items on one plate. And there was less food on that plate than we had feared.
The best of the batch was the Chicken Doner (it’s supposed to be a choice of chicken or beef, but our waitress didn’t ask and the kitchen gave us chicken by default, nice because we’d already tried the beef ). It was moist, very flavorful and in pretty stark contrast to the off-the-skewer chicken shish kebab, which was dry and kind of chewy and our only real disappointment.The off-the-skewer beef shish kebab was also a little chewy but better flavored. We enjoyed our kofte kebab, a nicely seasoned ground-beef patty.
On the side: a goodly portion of the nice rice, some lettuce under the guise of something called a Sogus salad, pepperoncini and pickles, vegetables (one grilled green pepper and some squash and zucchini slices) and a cup of tzatziki.
Save room and the $1.99 you’ll need for two pieces of the Baklava with a very nice and prominent pistachio dusting - and it’s served warm. The manager also pressed us to try a piece, on him, of the Revani ($1.99), a traditional Turkish cake made from semolina, flour, eggs, baking powder, milk, coconut and walnut, which we liked marginally less than the baklava but would certainly order again on our own nickel.
Service, as we mentioned, needs work. There’s only one person on the floor, combination server and host/hostess. Our very young servers, a woman on our first two visits, a man on the third, were nice and reasonably efficient but admittedly unfamiliar with the menu.
The wooden door that separates the kitchen from the dining room can be locked from the kitchen side, which at one point stranded our server in the dining room, knocking for admission (we’ve never seen that before in more than three decades doing this).
And on one visit we sat in amazement as the phone in the dining room rang and rang and rang because apparently the server had to have permission from somebody to answer it. We hope that’s changed, because that’s no way to run a business.
Anatolia Mediterranean Restaurant
Address: 315 N. Bowman Road, Suite 2, Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday Cuisine: “Mediterranean” (primarily Turkish) Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: Yes (according to the Facebook page) Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 219-9090 anatolialr.com facebook.com/AnatoliaLR
Weekend, Pages 31 on 10/03/2013
Print Headline: Anatolia’s deliciously Turkish