If Essex residents soon start detecting hints of mint and cumin in the air, they will do well to follow the aromas: A Turkish restaurant will open in the former Hideaway restaurant space by late May.
Istanbul Kebab House will be run by husband-and-wife team Vural and Jacqueline Oktay, along with chef Mehmet Kurtlu, who will move from Istanbul this spring to helm the kitchen.
“It has always been my dream to open my own restaurant, and the concept [of Turkish cuisine] has been missing in Vermont,” says Vural Oktay, who moved to the United States from Istanbul eight years ago and worked in catering at Dartmouth College at the Hanover Inn in Hanover, N.H. “I really want to share the culture of Turkish food,” which he describes as a mélange of Lebanese, Mediterranean and other regional cuisines.
The Oktays will both grow and buy local produce for a menu that includes fresh salads, soups and appetizers that range from staples such as baba ghanoush to the more unusual zucchini fritters called mücver. Döner-style and skewer-grilled kebabs, of course, take up much of the menu, as do güveçs, meat and vegetable casseroles baked in clay pots.
The kitchen will also turn out traditional puffy lavash bread; vegetable-and-cheese-topped Turkish flatbreads and the Turkish pizza known as lahmajun, thin dough topped with ground lamb, greens, pickled red cabbage and onion. Dips will include haydari, as well as a Turkish salsa blended from tomatoes, vegetables, walnuts, olive oil, pomegranates and the anise-flavored Turkish liquor Raki.
As if our mouths weren’t already watering enough, the bar will be pouring Turkish wines to wash it all down.