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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alice Eats: Café Istanbul

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, 777-7377

click to enlarge IMG_0482.JPG


It debuted in 2011 as  Muzo’s Cay Bahce. Three years later, Muzo Vurgun's Church Street cart is still going strong, but under the name Café Istanbul.

My other half was long obsessed with Vurgun's red-lentil-and-bulgur lettuce wraps, but the work-intensive small-plates menu on which that dish appeared has been replaced. Now a succinct bill of fare makes it easier to get a full meal at the cart. The one I had on Sunday burst with flavor and freshness and, better still, was an impressive value.

It's still possible to grab a small plate or two, though the particularly laborious lettuce wraps have been discontinued. Now, cigar-shaped börek are $2 apiece. Dolmades are five for $4 or $1 for one.

But I can't imagine ordering anything but the Istanbul Plate. Here's why:
click to enlarge Istanbul Plate
  • Istanbul Plate

I'll concede that it looks like a mess, but there's a clear method to the culinary madness. The dish begins with a full gyro kebab plate, usually $9. It includes a grilled flour tortilla, cut in four pieces then covered in freshly shaved lamb loaf and lots of lettuce.

I would have been very happy with that meal in its own right. Though the tortilla was too doughy for my taste (lavash or pita would have been better), the lamb was pleasantly spice-speckled and juicier than gyro meat often is. From there, the mad, Turkish orgy begins.

Each quarter of the dish is laden with a few nuggets of falafel. The granular little patties popped with garlic and waves of cumin. Every corner also had its own sigara böreği. Like the falafel, Vurgun fries the phyllo cigars to order in an adorable little portable deep-fryer. The savory pastries are delightfully fried, but their greatest triumph is a melty dose of a salty feta mixed with herbs and wisps of sweet carrot. The snack hits the same pleasure centers as a fried mozzarella stick, with more sophisticated notes of sweet and sour.

The buffet-like pile is doused with creamy tzatziki sauce and a garden's worth of chopped mint and parsley. Finally, the dish includes a single dolma, which I found lacking in acid on my first outing with it. The next day, its olive-oil dressing struck me as satisfyingly umami. I wouldn't mind a squeeze of lemon or two, but I had come to accept its absence. Did I mention that the whole plate was $11 and that it fed me for two days?

Unfortunately, Café Istanbul is only open Friday through Sunday. But Vurgun hints that he might have other plans afoot. When he does, I'll be getting in line for more Turkish delights.


Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to alice@sevendaysvt.com.

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