100-27 S. Jersey Ave. East Setauket, NY 631-675-9051
This classy, family-friendlyTurkish restaurant is hard to find but worth seeking out. House-made gyro, turkey or lamb outclasses the commercial stuff often served elsewhere.Hours: Lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner daily, 3 to 11 p.m.
It's hard to imagine a more out-of-the-way location for a restaurant than in the Heritage Square office park, invisible from Route 25A and tucked far behind the Wild by Nature shopping center in East Setauket. To my surprise, though, there wasn't an empty table at the newly opened Pita House the Saturday night I first went. That kind of instant popularity said as much about the local demand for Turkish-Mediterranean cuisine as it did about the caliber of chef-owner Cafer Sahin's food at this classy offshoot of his original Patchogue- Medford spot. According to Sahin, it took more than a year to renovate and decorate the spacious venue, which boasts a stone bas-relief sculpture of a Trojan horse by an artist from Turkey. Ultimately, though, it's the well-crafted food and caring service that will bring people back. To start, a square of spinach pie juxtaposed crisp, light layers of phyllo with rich, tangy feta and a thatch of grassy spinach. Even more compelling were the meze (cold appetizers), served in the traditional Turkish manner, from a wheeled cart. Over the course of two visits, I sampled some garlicky hummus (chick-pea dip), a lively patlican salatasi (charred eggplant and vegetable salad), pan-fried eggplant, tabbouleh (bulgur salad with parsley), ezme (a spicy mélange of chopped vegetables and walnuts), haydari (an herbal yogurt, sour cream and walnut dip) and an addictive version of taramasalata, the coral-colored whipped roe spread. Over a bottle of red wine, a basket of warm pita and some good conversation, we passed the better part of an hour. Nobody rushed us. Soups are gratis with almost any entree or sandwich here. Although I enjoyed the mellow spinach soup, the citrusy chicken-lemon soup and the bright red turkey-orzo soup, my favorite was the assertively spiced red lentil soup, made with a meat broth and topped with chopped fresh herbs. The finicky friend who ordered the seemingly plain chicken kebab was bowled over by the quality and juiciness of the large grilled cubes of marinated white-meat boneless poultry. So was I. A big attraction here is the house-made gyro, available in both lamb and turkey versions, the spiced meat formed into a large cylinder that's rotisserie-grilled and then sliced. The savory result bears no resemblance to commercial gyro. In the dish called Iskender gyro kebab, the meat is served over pan-fried pieces of pita and topped with two sauces, a tomato sauce and warm yogurt sauce. In both the vegetable Iskender and chicken Iskender, a similar treatment is accorded grilled vegetables (peppers, onion, mushroom, tomatoes, eggplant) as well as large chunks of well-marinated chicken. Spiced chopped lamb, skewered and grilled, comprises Adana kebab, which I had with a tomato-tinged bulgur pilaf. The similar (but more garlicky and fiery) Beyti kebab was ordered as a sandwich, the meat rolled into pita with onions, tomato and lettuce, accompanied by yogurt sauce, another success. I liked that the lamb kebab, tender, flavorful meat, came grilled to a moist medium-rare state, as requested. Tops, for me, was a beautifully grilled whole sea bass (misprinted on the menu as "sea beast"), the delicate fish simply anointed with lemon, garlic and fresh herbs. After all that food, the allure of both the airy kazandibi (milk custard) and the light, creamy rice pudding was apparent. But it may be hard for some to resist the kadayif (shredded wheat pastry), made with honey and pistachios, or the flaky baklava. Sahin said he plans to start taking reservations. A good idea. For while an out-of-the way location might pose a problem for some restaurants, it shouldn't hurt Pita House. After all, who doesn't love a good treasure hunt?