Eating Cock at Brooklyn Greco-Turk

Yogurt and pine-nut delights in Bay Ridge

Sixty years ago, there were 200,000 Greeks living in Turkey, mainly concentrated in Istanbul. This expat community had been a notable feature of the city since the Ottomans snatched it from the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century, back when it was called Constantinople. But the population declined precipitously in 1955, following riots known as the Istanbul Pogrom: Greek businesses were burned, women raped, and men forcibly circumcised by roving gangs of thugs encouraged by the Turkish government. Today, only 5,000 Greeks remain.

Over the centuries, the expatriates developed a rich gastronomic culture by modifying their own recipes with Turkish elements, a mixture that constituted more of a culinary mash-up than a distinct cuisine. Nevertheless, we are lucky to be able to sample the result at Agnanti, a new Bay Ridge restaurant that specializes in the Greek cooking of Turkey. (There's an older branch of the restaurant in Astoria.) Folded and stapled like a wall calendar, the colorful menu shows typical scenes from Istanbul and Greece, featuring the cloth-veined windmills of Mykonos, the white cloister of Panagia plastered against the Amorgos cliffs, and Istanbul's Hagia Sofia mosque, which was once an Eastern Orthodox church. While nothing on the menu is entirely unfamiliar to fans of Greek and Turkish cooking, the reassortment of elements proves fascinating.

A dozen dishes of varying sizes compete in the "Tastes of Constantinople" section. The vegetarian-stuffed grape leaves (dolmades yianlantzi, $6) are the best you've ever tasted. While many Greek places buy stuffed leaves in cans, Agnanti wraps up a light and oily toss of rice, pine nuts, and herbs, then serves the appetizer warm. If your mom made you hate lima beans by forcing you to eat them, fasolia plaki ($6) might cause you to reassess your opinion. Pale-white and plump, the beans arrive in a small crock tantalizingly stewed with tomatoes and herbs. Baccalao is a collection of breaded and fried salt-cod patties, satisfyingly briny, but probably owing more to the Portuguese than the Turks. The dipping sauce is unique, though—a dense, sticky, garlic-freaky purée of pine nuts reminiscent of skordalia.

Agnanti, where rooster is king
Cary Conover
Agnanti, where rooster is king

Location Info

Map

Agnanti Meze

7802 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11209

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Bay Ridge

Details

Agnanti
7802 Fifth Avenue
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
718-833-7033

The "yogurt kebab" ($11)—charred torpedoes of ground beef on toasted pita flooded with yogurt and tomato sauce—is an unremarkable riff on the standard Turkish Yogurtlu-style grilled meats, the most famous of which is Iskender kebab. The kebabs themselves are a bit dry, demonstrating Agnanti's overzealousness in grilling meats, a fate that befalls sardines and pork chops elsewhere on the menu. Another specialty of the Istanbul community is sigar bourek. On Middle Eastern menus, this term connotes fragile pastry flutes filled with feta, sometimes known as "fingers of Fatimah." Here, they bear an unmistakable resemblance to frozen croissants.

King of the menu is a rooster stewed in tomato sauce ($16) and smothered in tiny serrated squares of pasta. Who'd believe that a tough old cock would cook up so juicy and flavorful? Elsewhere on the menu, you'll find dishes originating in other parts of Turkey. Best is soutzoukakia—fat fingers of ground meat served in tomato sauce over glossy polished rice, attributed to Smyrna, a port on the Anatolian coast with a long Greek history. But what is that unexpected flavor? Taste the sauce a second time and you'll realize it's cumin. If you ate soutzoukakia blindfolded, you'd swear you were in a Mexican restaurant.

The balance of the menu fills out with Greek-island standards, with an emphasis on meat rather than fish. The Greek salad is the authentic article, made with good tomatoes and sprinkled with crumbled feta. An impressive cheese roster occupies a separate section of the menu. Who could resist a dish called Pandora feta ($9)? Expecting demons to fly out, we cut into it gingerly. It proved to be a melty mass of cheese, peppers, and onions. Not as good was ntakos—a Cretan salad of greenery and rusks so hard and dense that not a drop of dressing could penetrate them.

I've saved the best dishes for last. Kolokythokeftedes Mykonos ($7.50) are elliptical croquettes of zucchini and cheese, paradoxically light and bouncy. With all the other attractions on the menu, you might overlook the soups. Trahana is based on a fermented and dried mixture of grain, yogurt, and vegetables, which traces its origins to the ancient Mediterranean. It's mentioned by Apicius, the Roman Mark Bittman. The soup's taste is pleasantly reassuring and lactic, and little bits of pasta gleam in its depths. Eating it will take you back 2,000 years and more.

 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...