I used to ignore reviews of restaurants that I deemed too far from my house, but recent visits to Chester’s Anatolia Grill have shown me the error of my ways. While it may be a hike from the North Side, Chester’s obviously more convenient than a trip to Turkey, and the quality of Anatolia’s food has me looking for any excuse for a trip down Interstate 95.
Behind the bland, suburban strip-mall exterior, Anatolia Grill — named for a peninsula in modern Turkey — is your ticket to exploring one of the world’s ancient food cultures. Cold appetizers ($7.95 small; $12.95 large) are the traditional way to begin a Turkish dinner, and include some of the freshest hummus and babaghanouj the Richmond area has to offer. Both are less heavily spiced than most versions, with dominant flavors of chickpeas and eggplant. The mix also comes with haydari, a tangy yogurt, walnut and dill dip; muamarra, a mildly spicy garlic, pomegranate and tomato spread; and patlican salatasi, a tomato and eggplant mixture. Bread, baked fresh at the front of the restaurant, is a worthy accompaniment. A few other appetizers are less successful on my visits, but with five excellent dips, who’s complaining?
Kebabs are the main entree choice, served with cracked wheat (though the menu says “rice”) and a salad. The meat is the star, with a few clear standouts. The doner kebab ($11.95) is a generous portion of lamb served with the unique tender and crispy texture that only proper spit-roasting can achieve. The chicken shish kebab ($12.95) has a lot of flavor, while the spit-roasted chicken doner ($11.95) is a slightly bland disappointment. The seasoning varies slightly from one visit to the next, but the kebabs are consistently fresh and well-cooked.
Kebabs also are available as sandwiches ($4.45-$5.95), served in pita bread. The sautéed lamb ($12.95) comes in a dull tomato sauce that detracts from the high-quality meat. Vegetarians have limited choices, though the falafel ($11.95) is unusual and worth ordering; lightly spiced, with an extra creamy interior and crispy exterior, it’s much lighter than typical fried food.
A couple of dishes at Anatolia may just have you spending more time in a Chester strip mall than you ever dreamed possible. The outstanding yogurtlu shish kebabs, available in chicken, lamb or beef ($14.95), are similar to a kofte — a mixture of minced meat and spices. Anatolia’s are wonderfully seasoned, with a subtle red pepper heat that builds through the meal, cooled by a savory yogurt and tomato sauce studded with homemade buttery croutons.
For dessert, the kunefe ($7.95) is a diet breaker of mozzarellalike cheese coated in crispy shredded phyllo dough, fresh baked and soaked in sugar syrup. The kazandibi ($4.50), a milk pudding resembling a light crème brûlée, is a less decadent but worthwhile option. Ask for fruit baklava, an invention of chef Mustafa, who claims to have the only version in the country. The almost overwhelming sweetness of all these desserts is cut by the extra-bitter flavor of well-made Turkish coffee ($2).
Anatolia Grill’s wait staff is attentive, and more importantly, informed and enthusiastic about Turkish food and culture. When my questions stump one server, she cheerfully seeks out the owner to find my answer. Children and families are welcome, and the staff makes the restaurant feel like the extension of a family dining room with easy hospitality. S
Anatolia Grill ($)
12131 S. Chalkley Road, Chester
Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.