Turkish tastes come to the beach
I’m fighting the urge to whine - yet again - about the scarcity of ethnic eateries here in the woods … uh, I mean, here at the beach. Though we big-city transplants yearn for our favorite Indian, Vietnamese or Middle Eastern joints, the reality is that there isn’t enough of an off-season market for that sort of thing. Food is money. Throwing it away because you’re slow during the week is not high on the Restauranting for Fun & Profit checklist.
So the local spots owned by Greek and Middle Eastern entrepreneurs combine their favorite homeland specialties with American breakfasts, lunches and dinners. And it’s not just about gyros. (You can’t throw a falafel around here without hitting a gyro and splattering tzatziki all over the place.)
George Vrentzos’ Corner Grill often has a pan of hot spanakopita or silky avgolemono soup waiting for those in the know. All you have to do is ask. Harry Tsoukalas and his son Kosta reserve a corner of the Robin Hood menu for savory goodies from the Motherland. Even the timeless Gus & Gus on the Boardwalk slowly roasts gyro meat in anticipation of appreciative cognoscenti. All these places have loyal fans who know that there’s more to these spots than just omelets, burgers and corn dogs.
Now there’s a new kid in town. His name is John Tekmen. He and his wife Semra opened Semra’s Mediterranean Grill on Rehoboth Avenue to bring Middle Eastern - specifically, Turkish - tastes to the beach. But John is the new kid only where food is concerned. Since 1989, he was the owner of Dewey Beach Suites, eventually building the Quality Inn on the Forgotten Mile and another hotel in Fenwick Island.
John’s dad was an expert tile setter known for his intricate mosaic work in the ornate mosques of Turkey. He was so good, in fact, that he was asked to move to the United States to create tile designs not only for mosques and churches, but pretty much everywhere. John’s been in the U.S. since he was 5 years old.
It is a Turkish custom that mothers pass their cherished recipes down to their daughters. Semra picked up traditional techniques from her mother and her late grandmother and is proud of her seasonal dishes. They import as many ingredients as possible to ensure authenticity.
One of Semra’s prized winter creations is baked beans and rice. This is not the baked beans of Boston or the red beans and rice of Cajun fame. The Middle-Eastern version, known as fasulye, is as ubiquitous in Turkey as pasta is in Italy. Semra simmers the white beans with a rice mixture gently spiced with peppers. Various stew meats can also be added, along with pickled veggies. She also whips up occasional batches of su börek, made with twice-cooked phyllo stuffed with creamy cheese - sort of a cross between spanakopita and a breakfast sandwich.
Earlier this year I sparked the Great Tzatziki Wars of 2012 with an innocent article about gyro sandwiches. Gadzooks! I must have gotten 25 or more emails - some rather, shall we say, spirited … either in praise or denunciation of various local tzatziki preparations. (Tzatziki is a yogurt-based gyro topping made with cucumbers, garlic, mint, lemon, olive oil and who knows what else grandma used to throw in there.)
At the risk of triggering further tribal conflict, I can reveal that Semra Tekmen is now making her own Greek yogurt from scratch, and the resulting tart and creamy product places her tzatziki among the best in town.
In celebration of all this new stuff, John and Semra are holding a second grand opening party Saturday, Dec. 15, featuring a prix fixe Turkish dinner and renowned belly dancer Kalilah Naia. Why not give your holiday an international jump-start at Semra’s? It’s not that big a place, so reservations are required. Give them a call at 302-226-4976.