When asked by friends to describe Istanbul I used to say something to the effect of, “It’s the Bensonhurst Sahara.” After my last visit I’ve decided that I just haven’t been paying the 86th Street eatery its due respect. Istanbul will now be known as my favorite place for Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. Its my go-to place for kebabs, my own personal sultan of cacik, if you will. Why, you ask? Because the food is delicious, the service is great and it’s right here in Bensonhurst so there will be no more going all the way to Coney Island Avenue for great food, capice?
The first thing I noticed about Istanbul was the service. My girlfriend and I couldn’t have asked for a more friendly or courteous waitstaff. We were welcomed and fussed over as soon as we set foot inside the door. Smiles really are disarming, we sat down feeling completely relaxed and free to enjoy the weekday afternoon rhythms of Bay Parkway taking place outside of the front window. The decor is comfortable and clean: modern with traditional Turkish decorations that add some warmth. After taking our orders the waiter brought out the bread, a huge pita which kind of resembled naan from an Indian restaurant. The hummus we ordered to go with it was perfect: fresh with good texture and just the right amount of garlic and lemon.
Next up was a personal favorite of mine, fried cubes made from calf’s liver. My girlfriend’s not an organ meat person but I did manage to get her to try a piece. Hell, I’m not a big fan of liver myself. Liverwurst? Hate it. Liver and onions? Can’t stand it. The thing that makes fried liver cubes not just palatable but delicious for me is the fact that they’re fried which, let’s face it, makes everything better. They are also breaded and seasoned, splashed with some fresh lemon upon arrival to the table and finally, after a short dip in hummus, a savory treat that’s worth ordering. Try it, they’re mmm mmm good!
A recurring theme during our lunch was that the food was so inviting we’d start eating before getting a chance to take our clandestine cell phone photos. Just remember, these are not the smallest portions you’ve ever seen, we just barely got a chance to document our meal prior to chowing down.
That being said, you know what’s another thing I like about Istanbul? Half orders. If you want to try more than one grilled specialty without ordering an elaborate “mixed grill” or just aren’t all that hungry, you can place a half order, or have two half orders served together. The lamb kebab? Phenomenal. This might actually be the best lamb I’ve ever had, the marinade was perfect, it didn’t taste the least bit gamey and was extremely tender. My girlfriend’s chicken was likewise very good. It was moist, tender and tasty.
The next time your friends want to go to Sahara you can tell them you actually know a great little place nearby. Thanks to Istanbul the best shish kebab in Brooklyn’s no further than the 86th Street el.
Istanbul is located at 8607 Bay Parkway, just off the corner of 86th Street. They have a fast food store next door at 2202 86th Street, so don’t get confused.