A dining space outfitted with handsome wood chairs and tables is -- surprisingly -- embedded within a Turkish-American grocery store. In one corner, there's a big-screen TV, easy chairs and a coffee table. You can even get Wi-Fi. Erol's Chit Chat Cafe was made for multitaskers.
Eating was all I cared about the evening I was shown to a table within view of the olive oil, pudding mixes, nectarine juice and tea.
Surprisingly, the breadbasket was filled with reheated Italian bread instead of pita, which, I was told, was reserved for appetizers. Some warmed-up pita strips did come with the fine tahini-scented hummus and smoky baba ghanoush. Ezme, a spicy -- but not fiery -- blend of chopped vegetables, had depth of flavor. In comforting counterpoint was a big, fluffy zucchini pancake, made with mint, dill, feta and mozzarella.
Chef Bora Pala is a whiz at marinating and grilling meat. White meat chicken kebabs, all too often dry and overcooked, were moist, bursting with savory juices. So, too, the lamb kebabs. A big hit was Pala's Adana kebab, ground spiced lamb skewered and grilled. Juicier yet was his kofte kebab, ingeniously seasoned little grilled ground beef patties. A vegetarian alternative, grilled vegetable Iskender kebab, made with yogurt, sliced pita and tomato sauce, had a saucy appeal, if not quite in the same league.
Service here can be puzzling. At lunch, eaten at an outdoor table overlooking the parking lot, I requested a sandwich on pita and was told I could only get a panino, hero, wrap or quesadilla. This at a Turkish restaurant? In a later phone conversation, Pala insisted pita sandwiches were always available.
But things worked out for the better, since I ended up ordering an egg dish called menemen, a delectable loose scramble of eggs, tomatoes, peppers and onions. How I wish it were a staple on every breakfast menu.
For dessert, there's house-made baklava, kunefe, a warm shredded wheat and cheese pastry, and my favorite, kazandibi, an airy creamy custard with a burnt-sugar topping.
Although it may not be fully evolved, Erol's Chit Chat Cafe has the potential to be a neighborhood nexus.