SEVERAL LEVELS REVEALED THEMSELVES during the course of a visit to Anatolia. First, and simplest, is that of a pizza joint. Pies emerged from the oven, flew into boxes, headed out the door. Then there’s the family-dining eatery. People were schlepping their kids in and out. Pasta and wings were served, sodas chugged. As befits the building’s legacy as the onetime Colonial Restaurant.
Alongside was a puffy loaf of lavash bread, with a garlic-yogurt dipping sauce. If this sounds like Ali Baba, the wonderful Mediterranean restaurant on Troy’s 15th Street, it’s no coincidence. Anatolia owner Max Baikal worked in Albany alongside Ali Baba owner Huseyin Cakal a few years ago, and Cakal urged his friend to start his own place.
So don’t be surprised by the similarities. A major difference, and this was yet another level revealed, is the friendly comfort of the place. It’s a little fancier than its southern neighbor, although it’s really the difference between casual and very casual. But Baikal has decorated his restaurant with fabrics and artifacts from his native Turkey, and the items, revealed to us during a tour of the place, are beautifully crafted.
The kitchen is pretty much out in the open, and the main dining room gives you a view of the culinary proceedings. There’s another, adjacent room, although we avoided it because it featured a long table set for many and sporting a reserved sign, and there’s no dining hell worse than being stuck beside a party of a dozen or more, all clamoring to be heard at once.
As it turned out, both rooms remained relatively subdued while we were there, which was just as well – Baikal was working the floor himself; keeping up well with the orders, it’s true, but not able to pause for too long.
Because dips like hummus (based on chickpeas) and baba ganouj (based on grilled eggplant) are such staples of the cuisine, they feature both as independent starters ($4 and $5, respectively) and as part of a mixed appetizer plate ($8) that serves as an excellent place to start. Add some stuffed grape leaves, redolent of mint and parsley, a grilled eggplant salad and a red kidney bean stew (pilaki) and you’ve got plenty to work with. The hummus was light and unusually refreshing; the baba ganouj had an unexpectedly smoky flavor to it that caused it to be consumed quite quickly.
We sampled hot appetizers as well, starting with another classic bean-based dish: falafel ($5). It’s usually served as a sandwich in pita with lettuce and onions and a yogurt sauce, but here as a starter the fried chickpea patties are served atop their brethren of hummus. Excellent textures, too, with an herb-rich flavor that lingered.
You may be used to the phyllo pastry-wrapped baklava, a crunchy dessert of honey-sweetened walnuts (available here for $4); phyllo is also used on the cigar boreks, a hot appetizer ($5) that arrives looking like cigar-sized cookies; they’re filled with seasoned feta cheese, and leave such banalities as fried mozzarella sticks in the dust.
An Anatolian salad ($5) for the table sets off the hot stuff nicely. Along with an array of greens are tomatoes, red cabbage and green peppers, in an olive oil-and-lemon juice dressing.
We completely skipped the portion of the menu dealing with pizza and wings, but noted that gyros (the real thing) are available for $5. But we did sample a pizza-like pide, in which the pastry is shaped like a pointy Italian loaf, available with a variety of meats and cheeses ($8). The chicken variety included tomatoes and green peppers – and we added cheese for $1. Otherwise, look for ground beef or even, bringing more of the Mediterranean together, pepperoni.
The meat for a gyro is traditionally a seasoned loaf of lamb and beef that is slow-cooked on a rotisserie before it’s scraped onto a big round of pita. You can also get is as a doner kabob plate ($10), where it’s topped with a rich, dark sauce and accompanied by the pilafs mentioned earlier.
They also complete the shish kabob plates, which feature chicken, beef, vegetables or lamb; we sampled the last-named ($13) and couldn’t get over how good the meat was, very much showing signs of a good marinade and a charcoal grill.
There’s much more to explore here; if you live in Lansingburgh, you’re lucky to have it near you. This is a cuisine of which I never tire, and the pricing – and wonderful hospitality – makes it an appealing stop for repeated visits.
Anatolia, 880 2nd Ave. (at 125th St.), Troy, 237-8888. Serving daily 11-10. MC, V.
Cuisine: Mediterranean & Pizza; Entrée price range: $5 (gyro, ziti) to $15 (mixed shish-kabob plate); Ambiance: Fancy pizzeria.
– Metroland Magazine, 2 June 2005