Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkish Restaurant

Name: Turkish Restaurant
Location: 258 Main St., Johnson City, NY 13790
Phone: (607) 644-9030
Cuisine: Turkish
Price: Around $20 per person

I was driving through Johnson City yesterday on the way to pick up some Thai take-out from Sabaidee and noticed a new sign in the location of the former Green Owl Diner. The sign simply read "Turkish Restaurant," and I recalled quickly that Megan had seen the place a few weeks back and was looking forward to trying it out. Today, we decided to do exactly that.

I must admit that I am relatively inexperienced when it comes to the world of Turkish cuisine, and Middle Eastern food in general. I've had my share of hummus, had a delicious falafel wrap while I was in Paris, and am pretty well versed in Greek food (a staple throughout this area), but I'm not sure I'd ever eaten food specifically designated as Turkish until today. Let's just say that my first Turkish meal certainly will not be my last.

The Turkish Restaurant is located right in the heart of downtown Johnson City across the block from the Red Robin Diner. It's a good location with ample parking on the adjacent side streets and in a larger lot one block behind. The restaurant itself retains many of the diner-like qualities that the Green Owl likely had (can't say I ever made it there while they were open). It's a long, narrow restaurant with a coffee counter in the front which widens to a larger dining room space toward the back with booths on both sides. The old, wooden booths are not exactly the most comfortable in the world, but they get the job done.

We were seated quickly and took a long look at the menu. Admittedly, many of the dishes were not all that familiar to us, and Megan was disappointed that they didn't have falafel, one of her personal favorites. No big deal though. We ordered the hummus appetizer, and I went with the Doner Kebab entree while Megan elected to try out the Doner Wrap. For those unfamiliar, doner is sliced meat cooked on a vertical spit and is one of the signature staples of Turkish cuisine. I also decided to try out a Turkish coffee, as I've always been kind of interested in what those tiny cups would taste like.

The hummus, served with freshly-baked pita bread, came out first. And it was by far the best hummus I have ever had--rich, creamy, garlicky, and flat-out awesome. I am not usually too crazy about hummus, but this stuff won me over in one bite. The pita bread was warm, soft, and flavorful and was the perfect complement to the hummus. Had the meal ended with this appetizer, I would have been more than pleased.

But soon enough, the main course would arrive, and I admired the presentation of my kebab entree. Served with rice and a salad of lettuce, tomato, and sliced onion on the side, the doner was a fine choice of entree which I enjoyed immensely. The beef was well-seasoned and tender. The side salad and rice didn't do much for me, but this is certainly a dish I would order again. The Turkish coffee was tasty and served in the usual miniature cup. Not something I would order regularly, but for my inaugural visit to a Turkish restaurant, it was something I couldn't resist.

Megan's doner wrap was quite similar in appearance and taste to the Greek gyro and in my opinion was superior to any gyro/souvlaki sandwiches I've had in the area. The yogurt/tzatziki sauce was light and refreshing and not overpowering like it sometimes can be, and the doner meat was, again, of a very high quality. Thumbs up from me on the wrap.

When it came time for dessert, it's impossible for Megan and me to say no to baklava, so that's what we ordered. We were presented with three healthy-sized squares of the delectable pastry and were instructed by the waiter not to eat it with a fork, but to eat it with our hands and to turn it upside-down before taking a bite so that we could really get a good taste of the sweet honey. Better advice has never been given. I love a great piece of baklava, and this was some of the best I've ever had. Sweet but not syrupy, and not too brittle and flaky like some baklava can be, this dessert was right on the money.

Service at the Turkish Restaurant was phenomenal, and I was left with the impression that they really care about making great quality food and sharing their love for their cuisine with those who might not have experienced it before. A hostess took the time to explain all the various dishes to us before we placed our order, and our waiter, a well-dressed and well-mannered younger gentleman, was absolutely superb, helpful and attentive from start to finish.

I'd have to say that Johnson City's new Turkish Restaurant is a huge hit. Do not expect to be blown away by the ambiance, but the food is excellent and the friendly service is second-to-none. With its easy accessibility by bus, I could see this restaurant being a popular place among Binghamton University students, particularly the Turkish students who come to study at BU as part of the Dual Diploma exchange program. Frankly, I am surprised it has taken so long for a Turkish restaurant to make it to Binghamton given the large Turkish population on campus. But now is as good a time as any, and I am hopeful that this restaurant will make a go of it for a long time, because based on today's experience, I have no doubt that Megan and I will be regular patrons until our Binghamton days come to an end. I eagerly anticipate trying out all of their other offerings.

Grade: A

Sultan Sofrasi Turkish Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. "Greek food" which you mention as a "staple in this area" is in fact, hardly Greek at all, despite the identity of many owners as second or third generation immigrants (same thing is true for supposedly "Italian" food around here). And, there's no such thing as "Turkish cuisine," just like the "Greek" or "Middle Eastern" labels, these are relatively new, but meaningless terms in cuisine.

    There is Mediterranean Cuisine, with subsets, including Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, and further subsets such as Aegean or Levantine cuisine.

    So what "Greek" or "Turkish" food really means can only be understood in these terms. If you're eating Aegean Turkish food or Aegean Greek food, you'd be essentially eating the same thing. If you were eating food from northern Greece or Eastern Turkey or the Black Sea coast, you would be eating something entirely different.

    If you're going to write about food, a more thorough understanding of these issues will make your reviews better. Nonetheless, this is a good review.

  2. Anonymous, I appreciate the constructive criticism. I always try to do a little research before writing a review if the cuisine is something I am less familiar with. I have never professed to be a food critic nor an expert. But obviously this is something that interests me, and therefore I am trying to learn as much about different cuisines as I can.

    My hunch is that this particular restaurant is of the Aegean/Balkan tradition since I found it to be mostly comparable with foods I have always associated with that region (baklava, dolma, gyro, etc.).

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. great review! i would give it an A too! if you go back again, try their meat sampler entree (i forgot the name - it begins with an S). sausage, chicken, lamb, beef all very tasty.
    so glad to have come across your blog! :D.

  4. Hi Dan,

    It was meant as a constructive criticism, and I'm glad you've taken it that way, too. Humility is a great thing to have for a food blogger.

    Here are a few additions:

    in the case of falafel, it's normal that a Turkish restaurant would not have them; falafel is a specialty of the coast of Levant, and it doesn't (originally) extend beyond northern Syria in the north, and Egypt in the south. Of course, because of its popularity, it is now found in more places.

    Baklava's origins are a bit unclear: beyond the unfortunate nationalisms in the area (and their idiotic re-writing of history), it might have its origins in what is now southeast Turkey and northern Syria. This is where some of the earliest historical references point to, but I've seen a few references to what is no Lebanon, as well. These are all references from late antiquity/early medieval period, so there was plenty of time for baklava to spread and become "naturalized" in various other regions. It probably reached the Aegean before the arrival of the Turks.

    In the case of yaprak dolmasi (or yaprak samrasi)/dolmades/dolmadakia, there can be no doubt as to its Aegean origins. All the ingredients are Aegean (sure, the grapevine can be found in all the Mediterranean, but this one is mentioned in pre-Roman texts as from the Aegean), its historical pedigree is more or less well established. Also, it is a fairly complex item, so the chances of it being simultaneously developed in different parts of the world are very slim.

    With gyro/doner, the origins are a bit unclear, like the baklava: few historical references, coupled with the relatively basic nature of the food mean that it might have originated anywhere between Sicily and Persia, which is a vast sweep of cultures and land.

  5. a few typos above: "now Lebanon" and "yaprak sarmasi" :)

  6. I ordered the donor meat from the Turkish Restaurant; it tasted funny and was overcooked. Later that night, I found out that this was due to the lamb being spoiled. I had terrible food poisoning and vomited all night. My friend also shared some of the lamb, and she had symptoms as well. When I brought this to the manager's attention, they accused me of harassment. I certainly will never eat there again.

  7. I've eaten there three times now and ate doner in all three times. I can say this without a doubt best doner I've had in the states. Much better than Bereket or Sahara in the city.

  8. "Yummy" - I will try out the meat sampler you suggested on my next visit...thanks for the heads up!

    Anonymous #1 - Thanks for the history on those various dishes. Good stuff!

    Anonymous #2 - Sorry you had such a bad experience. I am hopeful that your negative experience will be uncommon.

    Anonymous #3 - Glad to hear you enjoyed this restaurant so much. Best in the states is high praise for sure!

  9. We went there tonight and found the ambience left much to be desired, but found the food and service to be top notch. I was skeptical at first as this was a new cuisine to me, but look forward to trying a different dish as my companion's plates looked and smelled equally as appetizing. Thumbs up. And by the way Dan, you're being awfully polite to the a-hole know it all.

  10. I ate dinner there with my friend ,the other day and the place seemed dirty. I didn't say anything, but we ordered our food,it didn't taste right over seasoned. Later that night my friend and I both became ill,I will never go there again or tell anyone to go there.It seems that this place has a problem with the storage of their food,and keeping it clean.

  11. We have eaten there several times and been very pleased. I think when they first opened they had a run on some dishes. Also, some people don't do well with lamb-- a lot of fat. We loved the sausage which is like a Serbo-Croatian dish that is also very good at Crepe Heaven (chevapi). The levash (pita) was incredible-- hot out of the oven. Mmmm. And the spinach borek and the feta "cigarettes" were great. They will do vegetable kebab as well. I like the ambiance--the lights could dim at night, but the history of that spot (it's been a diner/restaurant for a very long time) shows through in the old wood booths. They will work on the touches as they get into the spirit of the thing. Very welcome addition.

  12. Dan, your review of Turkish Restaurant is spot on. I also had the doner kebab and it was incredible. The service was amazing and I was blown away by the experience. To whoever reads this and hasn't yet gone: please, please, please go. (I also agree with Nerissa B. that you are being awfully polite to the pedant commenting on your review.)

  13. Becky, glad you enjoyed the restaurant. I was extremely impressed with the place and your comment serves as a reminder that we need to go back soon. Regarding the pedant, I promised myself upon starting this blog that I'd do my best not to get too riled up by things people say and take the high road when possible. But I will say: the people who own this restaurant believe they are serving authentic Turkish Cuisine, whether that is something that exists or not!

  14. This is the "a.hole know it all" and the "pedant;" to Nerissa and Becky: Dan is obviously a mature person, open to learning, and is not afraid to share his thoughts -- I'm sure if he thought what you did, he would have said so. I wrote what I did with the best intentions, and he graciously took it in the spirit it was written, unlike yourselves.

    In the meantime, Nerissa and Becky, you might want to take an example from him and refrain from name-calling people you don't even know. I'm tempted to call you anti-intellectual ignoramuses, but I won't. Open your mind, you might learn something.

    Dan, sorry I wrote this here, you're doing a fine job; prejudiced people like these two get on my nerves.

  15. See here's the thing about the comment above of someone being sick. If the food was spoiled allot more people would have been sick. The prices are affordable and the foods great Ive been there 10+ times and never had a complaint. This all falls under the category of you cant make everyone happy i guess. But to those who have not eaten at this new restaurant trust me you have to try it!!!!

  16. Just came back from my first dinner at Sultan Sofrasi Turkish Restaurant. It was a very enjoyable meal from start to finish. I had a beef and chickpea soup that was rich and tasty. I followed it with the Sigara Boregi, or "Cigarette Pastries" which are narrow roles of filo filled with feta cheese, parsley, and dill and lightly fried to make them crisp. They were crunchy and full of flavor. For my entree, I had the Sultan Mix, which is a sampling of 5 different grilled meat items with a bit of grilled eggplant, tomato, and onion to along with it. It was all tasty, but the cubed lamb kebab was the hands-down winner in my opinion. Just when I thought I was done, I let my waiter talk me into a Turkish coffee and baklava. I only drink coffee a couple times a year, and was glad that I did so tonight. It was a real treat, especially combined with the delicious baklava. My waiter also recommended eating with my hands and turning it upside down so that I could taste the honey.
    The service was exceptionally friendly and helpful, the food was well prepared and seasoned, and I will definitely be returning -- and bringing friends.

    -Dale Felix

  17. I'm from Ithaca and, having stumbled across this post, I look forward to trying this restaurant next time I'm in the Binghamton area.

    Since I've recently spent a little time in Istanbul, I'll add my 2 cents about Turkish cuisine from my visits to restaurants there - looking at the online menu for this place, you could probably get a reasonably authentic line-up of dishes by starting with a meze (cold appetizer) sampler and then one of the grilled meat sandwiches or entrees (specialties I enjoyed in Turkey included the Doner, the Adana, kofte, or Iskendar kebap, or one of the meat pides).

    For a hot beverage, one was much more likely to be offered hot tea (in the traditional cool tulip shaped handle-less glasses) in Turkey than Turkish coffee, though since most of the kebap places I went to in Istanbul also served American soda, I can say that a Coke tastes pretty good with kebap as well.

    Finally, as someone else mentioned earlier in the comments, falafel is not at all a Turkish food and I wouldn't expect to find it in a Turkish restaurant - I didn't see it on any menus during my time in Istanbul.

  18. I used to love to go to Turkish Restaurant and for $10 get the appetizer sampler to go (hummus, white bean salad, spicy tomato salad and baba ghanoush)and they would make a fresh loaf of flat-bread for me in the over for $1.60. It was such a treat to have, and the people were so friendly and would always make me Turkish tea while waiting. I will say though that I always found the meats to be a bit over cooked and under-flavored, especially the doner (which was dry and very tough to chew), though to be fair I last had it when it first opened. The red lentil soup was also very good, though again perhaps a bit too mild for my tastes. As I said in a comment for Taj, I think their lamb gyro is the best in town hands down, though Turkish Restaurant is great in it's own right. Living in Thailand now and not super excited to come back to Binghamton, though finding your blog and reading about some of my old favorite restaurants is making me excited. Keep up the good work!


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