Entering Troy Mezze Lounge, you leave the cobblestone streets of City Market in downtown Raleigh and step into a Turkish taverna. You're seated at a simple wooden table and take in your surroundings: walls draped with kilim rugs, ornate-colored glass lanterns suspended over the bar, a collection of rustic urns on a high shelf.
Then you open the menu, and the illusion is reinforced when you're confronted by an extensive list of dishes with exotic names like mucver, acili ezme and sigara boregi.
Not to worry. The menu is a capable tour guide, providing descriptions in English of every dish. Mucver, it informs you, are "fritters of zucchini, Turkish feta cheese, dill, mint and green onions, served with tzatziki sauce." Acili ezme is a dip of "crushed tomatoes with Anaheim peppers, spring onions, fresh herbs and spices."
And sigara boregi? Turns out its name contains a hint: "cigar-shaped pastry (think phyllo) stuffed with Turkish feta cheese, fresh herbs and parsley, served with fresh tomato sauce."
The menu gives you a heads-up that Turkish dolmades ("grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, currants and onions") are a bit sweeter than their Greek counterparts. And that haydari, Turkey's answer to Lebanese labneh, comes with a bonus sprinkling of chopped walnuts and fresh mint.
Even with such generally helpful descriptions, there is the occasional surprise. Pacanga, billed as "pan-fried pastry stuffed with Turkish pastrami, kasseri cheese and tomatoes," turns out to be delicate cylinders of baked phyllo. Kayasili karides, "pan-seared prawns served over a white wine honey apricot sauce with toasted almonds," isn't as sweet as it sounds. Not that you'll necessarily be disappointed with either deviation from script.
Sample with abandon
These are just a few of the nearly two dozen hot and cold mezze at Troy. If you're bewildered by the variety, you'll find relief in the mezze platter, an artfully arranged sampler of seven vegetarian dishes. Eight, if you count the unadvertised Turkish tabbouleh that, along with dolmades and shakshouka (an earthy-sweet medley of eggplant, potatoes and carrots) were the favorites at our table.
You can order any of these mezze individually, but then you'd miss out on the special baked-to-order lavash that comes with the platter. The sesame-spangled flatbread inflates like a balloon as it bakes (our server aptly described it as "puffy bread"), then retains its swollen shape and cracker-crisp texture. Tailor-made for mezze dipping, you might say.
Like tapas, mezze can be a meal in itself or whet your appetite for more substantial fare. In the latter case, kuzu guvec should satisfy: a hearty melange of lamb, vegetables and three cheeses baked in an individual ceramic dish. Shrimp, chicken and vegetarian guvec (literally, "clay pot") are also available.
Pide - Turkish style pizza, with toppings ranging from spinach to sun-dried Turkish sausage on a distinctive football-shaped crust - is another tempting possibility. Give in to temptation.
At one end of the entree spectrum is "Mediterranean eggplant," a vegetarian casserole reminiscent of moussaka. At the other is lamb shank braised in a broth of red wine, tomato and pomegranate juice. In between, it's all pretty much variations on the Turkish kebab theme.
Kebabs on point
The Troy mixed grill offers a shareable sampling of five of those variations. Beef and lamb kebabs are respectable, and chicken surprisingly moist and flavorful. Better still, for my money, are "mixed beef and lamb patties," whose spicy flavor is reminiscent of classic Turkish Adana kebabs, and "homemade Turkish gyro," crisp-edged petals of beef and lamb that fans of Turkish cuisine will recognize as doner kebab.
True to tradition, the grilled vegetables on the platter are more than just an afterthought. And the garnishing cluster of fresh dill, parsley and mint is another welcome touch of authenticity (and meant to be eaten).
But the most memorable item on the platter remains hidden until near the end of the meal. Buried under the mound of grilled meats, until you've consumed enough to reveal it, is a wide ribbon of lavash. The bread has absorbed all those meat juices, and now is supple and rich with the mingled flavors of them all.
As you leave, you notice the Trojan horse painted on the glass door. It's a fitting symbol - especially so, because owner Arif Denk hails from a city in modern-day Turkey near the site of ancient Troy.
But your mind is on more recent times. You're still relishing the memory of that meat juice-soaked lavash. Now that's a Trojan horse you'd be happy to let slip past the sentry any day
Troy Mezze Lounge
317 Blake St., Raleigh
Atmosphere: Turkish taverna
Noise level: low to moderate
Service: generally welcoming, widely varying in experience
Recommended: mezze platter, pide, Mediterranean eggplant, mixed grill
Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection
The N&O's critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: Extraordinary Excellent.
Above average. Average. Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.