One Amazing Sandwich

Turko-Uzbeki lunch counter on Brooklyn's Camino Real

Assembling last week's piece about Christmas in Chinatown, I propelled myself eastward along Kings Highway one moonless night. My intention was to hit every Chinese restaurant in Homecrest, sampling carryout dishes so I could make knowledgeable recommendations. Suddenly I stumbled on a dazzling pool of light spilling onto the sidewalk. Arriving at its source, I spied, through the window of a Turkish diner, a meat wrangler making an amazing sandwich. As two bulging donerkebab cylinders—one lamb and one chicken—twirled in vertical competition, the dude wielded a long knife, carving a prodigious quantity of glistening flesh from each and depositing the wads, not in a flimsy cardboard pita, but in a giant round seeded loaf split down the middle, a lepeshka. Turkish meat in Uzbeki bread? Chicken and lamb together? Next he heaped on tomatoes, onions, lettuce, yogurt, and hot sauce so that the ingredients cascaded out the top, and handed it to a customer fidgeting in anticipation. Even though I still had lots more Chinese eating to do that evening, I couldn't resist dashing in and securing one for myself.

Brooklyn boasts at least one other restaurant catering to Turks from Uzbekistan, where their population numbers 150,000. Many came from families ousted from Georgia in 1944 by Joseph Stalin. Memo looks like any Brooklyn diner—brightly lit, with a handful of Formica tables. Also serving as a counter, a chilled glass case holds the usual Ottoman salads and bread dips, including a decent baba ghanoush swirled on the plate and garnished with an olive (small $3, large $6), shepherd's salad tasting of vinegar and parsley ($3.50, $5), and raw falafel paste. One unusual item caught my eye. The composed salad called pilaki is usually made with parsley, tomatoes, and canned navy beans. In this case, though, the beans were comically miniature and glistening with freshness, much like the tiny white pulses found in central Italy known by the poetic name "beans of the lake." These beans made the dish especially delicious, and so did the massive quantities of green onions the salad also contained—itself probably evidence of Chinese influence along Central Asia's Silk Road.

The usual kebabs are available too. As in most Turkish joints, the adana kebab is best. These undulant strips of ground lamb are laced with onions and dried chiles, and when smoke is applied during flame grilling, the result is meaty perfection. You can have a single foot-long kebab over rice with sumac-dusted salad for $6, or a pair—probably more meat than one diner can eat—for $9. There's also a good tripe soup with yogurt-laced broth, a proactive hangover remedy in Istanbul that's bland until you spoon on the accompanying condiment of crushed garlic and white vinegar.

In the flesh
photo: Tania Savayan
In the flesh

Unexpectedly, the desserts are worth saving room for. "Brown top pudding" ($2) is a wobbly square of bland, rice-flour-thickened milk with a dusty brown topping, created by frying the pudding after it has set—hence the Turkish name kazan dibi,"bottom of the kettle." It is only slightly sweet, reflecting the fact that such dishes are normally eaten as fortifying snacks, rather than as desserts.

Then there's that amazing sandwich. Make sure you order "mix lamb and chicken gyro" on "home bread" ($6), with both white and red sauces. And bring a friend to help you finish it.

 
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