I like to highlight the fact that although Rochester isn't a city the size of New York or Chicago, the dining scene has a fantastic selection of cultures to explore. A Evi Turkish Cuisine is part of a limited group of Turkish options, but it makes its mark with a family atmosphere and some standout dishes.
Speaking of standing out, when my wife and I walked to the counter to grab our menus, the large cone of meat used for the house döner kebab was hard to miss. The döner at A Evi is made in house and sliced to order — an effort that pays off with a better texture and more restrained seasoning than you'll find more often with the commercial Greek gyro.
The sandwich featuring döner ($6) is served on a sub roll with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and we used the thickened yogurt and garlic-tinged white sauce to add creaminess and tang to the otherwise straightforward flavors. The döner is also one of five meats in the mixed grill dish ($18.99), along with adana, köfte, chicken, and a lamb chop. The adana and köfte had nice char flavor and were well seasoned, but the marinated chicken was the star here.
A Evi makes a range of bread-based products in house, including the bases for the lahmacun and the stuffed bread boat known as pide. During our visit, almost every table ordered three pieces of the lahmacun flatbread ($3.49 for one; $9.99 for three), and after trying it I can see why: It has a crispy base with simple toppings of ground beef, peppers, and onions that makes for a crowd-pleasing appetizer.
What was even more impressive, though, was the Special Pide ($14.99), stuffed with a myriad of ingredients, including Turkish versions of sausage and pastrami, the same Lahmacun topping base, mushrooms, Kashar cheese, and drizzled egg. The clean, cured beef flavors from the pastrami, the notable cumin from the sucuk (sausage) and the just-barely set mixed egg really stood out.
The combination of broiled adana kebab and solidified yogurt set atop a savory broth-soaked pita made up the yourtlu adana ($14.49). The bits of crispy meat and the softened bread made for an interesting combination of textures and an extra-savory flavor profile.
I was delighted with the paca (cow head) soup ($4.99). As soon as I dove in, I was transported back to the flavors of one of the favorite dishes of my childhood despite this one originating from halfway around the world. I can't say you'll have the same reaction, but this was a nice soup to pass around, especially with an extra kick of salt and lemon.
There aren't a significant number of vegetarian options on the menu, but the cold appetizers and desserts offer some choices. Both the hummus ($3.99) and the patlican (eggplant salad; $4.49) were served with baked pita. But both dishes needed some balance in the seasoning: The hummus was on the salty and dense side, while the eggplant salad needed an acid to let it shine. Still, we liked the light smoke from the eggplant and the dusting of pepper powder that added some kick.
I appreciated the simplicity of the rice pudding ($3.99) served in an individual crock. It was quite thick and had a notable skin on it from baking, and it could have used something to break up the one-note vanilla base. A piece of kadayif ($4.99) — basically a pistachio-laden, modified baklava — was significantly sweet. This version uses shredded phyllo dough as the filler and both cooked pistachios in the honey base and bright green powdered nuts on the top.
Our experiences at A Evi were family affairs from top to bottom: owner Selami Tulum was cooking at the grill and slicing meat off the döner cone, his daughters were helping with service, and his son stepped up when I needed some translating help. He mentioned to me that this restaurant wasn't about the money; he cared more about making good Turkish food with his family. That definitely showed.
You can read more from Chris Lindstrom or listen to his podcast on his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.