Anatolia brings a taste of Turkey to Greensburg
Successful as their Greensburg and Latrobe Pizza Siena restaurants have been, brothers Turgut, Fehti and Ismet Alikaya long dreamed of owning a restaurant that would introduce Westmoreland County to their beloved native Turkey.
In September, the dream was fulfilled with the opening of Anatolia in the Greensburg Shopping Center on East Pittsburgh Street.
“Always, we wanted to bring our experiences, culture and food and introduce them to the American people,” says Turgut, the youngest of the three. “Turkish people are known for their hospitality, and we want to share that.”
Menu items like the gyro and stuffed grape leaves will be familiar to diners who frequent other area Mediterranean restaurants, though at Anatolia, they’ll have to learn to call them by their Turkish names, “doner” and “yaprak sarma.”
Turgut says there are other differences, too.
Spices and other ingredients imported from Turkey provide an authentic taste of the old country that won’t be found elsewhere. Chef Ramazan Ak even insists on Turkish rice for the pilaf, Turgut says, because no American rice has quite the right flavor or texture.
Finding a chef so particular about his dishes was crucial to opening Anatolia, Turgut says.
An award-winning master chef in Turkey, Ak was recommended for the job by another Alikaya brother who still lives there.
“My brother said, ‘I’ll introduce him to you and see if you can convince him to come, because he has a family and kids,’ ” Turgut says. “After I talked with (Ak), he said, ‘I’d like to put my fingerprints in America.’ He said, for him, it would be an honor to show on a daily basis what we eat.”
Obtaining a work permit for Ak was a two-year process that culminated with his arrival in May.
So far, Turgut says the customer favorite entree appears to be the lamb shish kebabs ($17), although when asked, he will recommend the mixed grill platter ($25) with lamb and chicken shish, adana kebab, kofte and sliced gyro meat served over pilaf with grilled green peppers and tomatoes.
“In any Turkish restaurant, we have all different kinds of meat, different flavors,” he says. “We put small portions all on one plate, so you get a taste of all the flavors. Next time you come, if you like one more than the other, you get just that.”
Diners also can choose from the “soguk mezeler” or “sicak mezelar,” the cold or hot appetizers. Five cold appetizers can be combined in the mixed meze ($16), with choices such as hummus, white bean salad, cucumber and yogurt, spicy veggie paste, baba ghanoush and more.
On the hot side, there is arnavut cigeri ($9), or cubed veal liver sauted with vegetables and lemon, and two types of borek, fried filo pastry filled with feta cheese ($7) or pastrami and tomatoes ($10). Another intriguing choice is hummus served hot with pastrami ($10).
Desserts include baklava, rice pudding, custard and baked apples.
Turkish tea and coffee keep customers coming back, Turgut says, and maybe willing to try other traditional beverages like cherry juice and ayran, salted yogurt thinned with water.
One frequent guest is retired Greensburg district judge James Albert, who says he grew up on Mediterranean food in a home with an Italian mother and Syrian-Lebanese father.
“My mother’s food was good, but this is something else,” he says. “These are three brothers that have worked hard, and who show that hard work pays off.”
The Alikayas plan to add more vegetarian menu choices, both to fill customer demand and to reflect authentic Turkish eating habits.
Starting in January, there also will be a once-a-month evening of belly dancing accompanied by live Turkish music.
The menu cover explains that the name “Anatolia” comes from the Greek word for “east” or “sunrise,” referring to the Anatolian peninsula that makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey, bounded on the north by the Black Sea, on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and on the west by the Aegean Sea.
A red carpet leads from the front door to a display case at the rear of the long, narrow dining room. On either side, two- and four-top tables face banquettes upholstered with authentic Turkish textiles and scattered with pillows. Rugs, hammered copper plates and copper-framed mirrors grace the walls, as does a large blue glass “evil eye,” the traditional amulet that wards off evil spirits.
Turgut says even though he is the youngest brother, he was the first to leave home, enrolling in New York University in 1984 to study international business. He met his wife in New York and the two decided in 1989 to move back to her native North Huntingdon.
Fehti arrived in 1990 and Ismet followed in 1996. The three opened Pizza Siena in 2001 as a pick-up and takeout store and later expanded it to a full-service restaurant.
They still maintain close ties with their homeland.
“That’s a benefit of doing business with your family. With the brothers, we each take our turn to go and visit,” Turgut says. “Our dad is still living, so we go visit him and our other siblings and relatives and friends. We are blessed that we’re able to do that every year.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or [email protected].