Cafe Anatolia


Cafe Anatolia

I spent Monday in downtown Pittsburgh, taking a class. I only had about a half-hour for lunch, which left me with not quite enough time to head to Buon Giorno Cafe, my usual haunt. From the corner of my eye as I walked up Fifth Avenue I saw a marquee on the Warner Centre with the intriguing name “Cafe Anatolia.” Having always liked Turkish food, I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did.

Cafe Anatolia is in a food court. An ugly food court, with a Chik-Fil-A, a greasy looking taco place, and an ice cream stand. There’s nothing enjoyable about the surroundings. Don’t take a date here if you care about ambience.

However, if your date cares about food, you could do a lot worse. There’s a number of options on chafing dishes, available for inspection. I had stir fry beef, bulgur cooked with cumin and tomato paste, and turkish style leeks, along with a “shepherd’s salad.” The owner generously tried to cram about 4 other dishes on my plate, but I declined. Total damage: $5.50. The food was good. If you’ve ever had Indian food from one of Sree’s stands, I’d put it on about the same level: not high cuisine. Not even medium cuisine. This is the sort of food that you might get from a street vendor on a cold winter day – but a street vendor you’d return to again and again. The main notes of everything I had were tomato, cumin, and to a lesser extent turmeric. I left satisfied and plan to return.

Turkish food is fairly underrepresented in Pittsburgh, so if you’re like me it’s refreshing to have a new spice palette on your palate. The stir-fry beef was OK, but not notably distinct (which makes sense, since it is clearly there as the ‘meat’ half of the formula that unadventurous businesspeople downtown are likely to try for lunch). The Turkish-style leeks were great. Braised until they were butter-soft in a light tomato broth, with sweet peppers and spiced with cumin, I want to try to reproduce this at home. I don’t use leeks nearly enough in my own cooking – they go in every stock and broth I make, but I generally don’t present them as a vegetable on their own. Now I have a plan to do so.

The bulgur was an interesting alternative to rice (which is also available, if that’s your style). The tomato lent it a nice tang, and it served as a good base to the other dishes. The shepherd’s salad was primarily tomato and cilantro – think tabooleh without the grain.

And, of paramount importance, the Turkish coffee was excellent.

They have a web site listing the full menu, and also sell Evil Eyes, in case you need one (Really. I didn’t make that up. You can even buy Evil Eye Teddy Bears.)

It may just be the ethnic equivalent of the neighborhood hamburger joint, but there is no shame in that. I’ll be going back to Cafe Anatolia. If you find yourself downtown with no lunch plans, give them a try.