WEST CHESTER, Ohio - Each Thursday, our "Global Table" column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
Got Gaziantep? This town is considered the epicenter of great Turkish tastes, but you don't have to travel across the globe to savor the Sultan.
You'll find familiar Mediterranean bites here, like falafel and hummus.
Look a little closer, and you'll discover dishes unique to Sultan's. For example, the baba ghanoush appetizer, skips the usual use of tahini, and simply brings together pureed smoked eggplant with garlic and sesame oil.
Did we mention the baklava that's more like a slice of pie?
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Sultan's Mediterranean Cuisine welcomes you with Turkish specialties that are traditional to Gaziantep, a city about 500 miles southeast of Istanbul. Turkey, famous for its kebabs and baklava, is splendidly represented here.
The entrée section is studded with many forms of kebab, including:
You'll find familiar Mediterranean bites here, like falafel (fried ground chick peas and vegetables; see picture below) and hummus (pureed chick peas with sesame oil and garlic).
Look closely, and you'll discover dishes unique to Sultan's. For example, the baba ghanoush appetizer, skips the usual use of tahini, and simply brings together pureed smoked eggplant with garlic and sesame oil.
Kisir, from the same family as the more familiar tabouleh, carries its own Turkish identity, with its foundation of cracked wheat, green onions, tomato, parsley, lettuce and olive oil.
If you take the time to dig all the way through the menu, you'll be rewarded with the hidden gem: Ottoman Specials. This section, quietly tucked away at the back, sparkles with culinary legacies from the Ottoman empire.
You'll find dishes like kiymali ispanak (see picture above), a meaty dish of ground beef and lamb, flavored with garlic and peppers, and woven in with spinach and creamy yogurt. Another tasty example is the okra stew with lamb (see picture), a dish of tender lamb, baby okra (that’s still slightly firm and not slimy), tomato, onion and colorful vegetables.
Sultan's proudly serves baklava uniquely from Gaziantep: Havuç dilimi. The menu modestly describes it as "special baklava," understating its decadence. It is crafted with pistachios imported from Turkey, and served in a generous portion, rivaling a healthy slice of pie (see picture below).
Meet the owner
Mustafa Koylu was once simply known as "the kebab man," a reflection of his culinary roots. Born and raised in Gaziantep, he's the chef and owner of Sultan's Mediterranean Cuisine.
Koylu's love for food started early, with his mother's cooking. When he was 13 years old, he apprenticed at a local restaurant, learning how to fabricate lamb for different kebab dishes. It was a job he absolutely loved.
"After school in the morning, I couldn't wait to change and go to work," Koylu said. "Everybody pushed me to go school, but I said: 'No, I want to be a chef.'"
The chef with whom Koylu apprenticed constantly checked his work to make sure everything was just right. It's no wonder Koylu remembers his lessons well.
"You use the lamb shoulder for adana, and lamb leg for kebab," he said. In both cases, he prescribes the use of male lamb for better flavor.
After seven years of laboring with lambs and other meats, Koylu was finally allowed to cook, a moment formalized by the award of a certificate.
"They called me the kebab man at that point," he recalled. Koylu went on to work for various establishments in Turkey, ultimately opening two restaurants of his own in Istanbul. He even did some teaching for a cooking school along the way.
Koylu left Turkey for the chance to work in a Turkish restaurant in New York. He then moved on to the Tri-State to fill the chef position at Café Istanbul in Newport. There he met his future business partner, Mehmet Coskun.
After some years of pursuing different ventures, Koylu and Coskun joined forces to open Sultan's Mediterranean Cuisine in 2010. Coskun ultimately left for Turkey, leaving Koylu with sole ownership of the restaurant.
Koylu exudes great joy. "I love my work," he said.
You can find him rolling up his sleeves everyday in the kitchen, constantly checking to make sure everything is just right.
Cuisine from the Ottoman Empire can still be found in Turkey today. Once considered food for the imperial court, savored only by royalty, high-ranking officials and society elites, this cuisine has, over the centuries, percolated into contemporary Turkish cuisine.
Gaziantep is considered, by many, to be the hotbed of kebabs, baklava, and pistachios. In fact, pistachio cultivation is so plentiful, Gaziantep is often referred to as the pistachio capital of Turkey.
Koylu proudly pays a premium for these Turkish beauties.
"I make the 'special
baklava' with them. Nobody else around here makes it the way I do," he said.
The kebab and grill go hand-in-hand, forming the backbone of Turkish cuisine.
"The smell of smoke from the kebab has to be just right," Koylu said. Garlic, green onion, red onion, fresh mint, lemon juice, and fresh parsley are common ingredients in this cuisine.
Another Turkish staple is soup. It is an important element in Turkish cuisine, and can range from the simple--like lentil soup--to the more exotic, such as lamb brain soup. Soup is an all-day affair; common during breakfast, after dinner, and into the late hours of the night.
By the way...
The food at Sultan's is halal, which means it's been prepared in accordance to Islamic traditions. There are also a number of options for vegetarians, ranging from baked vegetable casserole to falafel dinner. Eggplant of various preparation--roasted, charred, stuffed, pureed, drenched in olive oil--has a strong presence on the menu, reflecting its central role in Turkish cuisine.
(All photos by G. Yek)
Grace Yek is a faculty member at the Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.