You don’t have to join in the belly dancing at the Istanbul Cafe, but sometimes the spirit is hard to resist.
Opened at its current Crown Street location in 1999, the Istanbul Cafe was Connecticut’s first Turkish restaurant. The original owner, Kadir Chatalbashoglu, ran a pizza joint in Wallingford and realized there wasn’t much in the way of Turkish restaurants this side of New York. Lines formed down the block as soon as the restaurant opened its doors.
Kadir returned to his pizza businesses in 2003 and sold Istanbul Cafe to his chef Adnnan Efe. Efe returned to Turkey after finding Murat Firidin, who wanted to close his Boston Turkish restaurant and move elsewhere. Firidin bought Istanbul Cafe in 2009 and remains the current owner. Over the 14 years the restaurant has been operating, both the menu and the decor have expanded. Although the owners have changed, fortunately for the restaurant the general manager has not. Nuh Demirel has been there from the beginning, keeping things running smoothly.
Since the early 2000’s other Turkish restaurants opened in the greater New Haven area. They are primarily kebab houses with a different customer base, often Turkish families. Istanbul Cafe gets the more typically diverse, downtown New Haven crowd.
Firidin and his brother Zafer do all the cooking. The staples of the restaurant’s menu are lamb and chicken dishes redolent of the round-the-clock marinade of yogurt, olive oil and spices. A favorite dish, Sultan’s Delight, is classic Ottomon cooking, using a recipe that is over 600 years old. Demirel says, “We make everything ourselves, including the bread. We do real food here, real portions.”
And then, on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s the belly dancing. If the crowd is in the mood – and anyone who wants can join in – the dancing will go on until midnight. Don’t be surprised if the music, the Turkish wine and beer, and the food get you up on your feet and snaking your way around the very full tables.
Restaurant Website: http://www.istanbulcafect.com/index.html
• The Detes: 245 Crown St., New Haven. 203-787-3881 Open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 am – 10 pm. Friday and Saturday 11:30 pm – 11 pm.
• Price Range: Appetizers $5-12, Salads $7.50-12, Kebabs $15-19, Entrees $15- 24, Dessert $5-7.
• Style of Food: Classic Turkish
• Favorite dishes: Soquk Meze, Sultan’s Delight, Sis Kebab, Karisik Izgara Kebab
• Vegetarian/Vegan: Yes
• Drinks: The regular offerings plus Turkish wine and Turkish beer and Turkish tea
• Take out: yes
• Outdoor seating: no
• Belly Dancing! Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 – 9:30 pm Don’t be embarrassed, you don’t have to join in.
• Specials events/catering: Yes.