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Turkish Family Restaurant, Brookline, Massachusetts

Restaurant Review

By Mike Dunphy | December 13, 2010


“Ne mutlu Türküm diyene”, the famous saying of Turkish patriarch Mustafa Kemal Atatürk goes, “Happy is the man who is a Turk.” Sure, you could pick apart the propaganda, but no one can deny the country’s fortune of cuisine.

The few millennia of cultures moving to and fro across the Bosphorus has left a staggeringly rich culinary tradition, from the more delicate fish and olive oil diet of the Mediterranean coast to the juicy, spicy meats of the hinterland, all alongside fabulous produce to boot. Having lived in Istanbul for four years, I am, of course, biased, but also able to evaluate Boston’s Turkish restaurants with a unique perspective of how much is lost in translation.

The Interior

In the heart of Brookline village can be found the Turkish Family Restaurant. From the street, the interior (like the name), doesn’t exactly dazzle. It’s not ugly, but not inspired either and does little to lure passersby. But that doesn’t seem to bother owner Ziya Canca who lists his primary customers as from the wider cultural family of Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians, Jews, and Arabs that have been connected in one way or another throughout history.   “Most customers are regular,” he adds, “but they always bring friends with them.” Count me as one of them, who arrived with three uninitiated friends in tow.

The first rule of Turkish dinners is that it’s never about the main dish. Like Italian cuisine, the meal gradually builds through a series of appetizers towards the main attraction.

We begin with two of my favorite appetizers: mercimek köftesi and sigara böreği.   The first, an oval-shaped patty of pressed, baked lentils spiced with scallions and parsley was always a personal favorite in Turkey and although similar in taste and consistency neglected the usual fresh lemon on top. My guests immediately took to the second dish of crispy phylo rolled like a cigar around a mix of feta cheese and dill. Spot on in both taste and authenticity.

By now it was time to introduce a round of rakı, the anise-flavored national alcoholic drink of Turkey. Initially clear, most people dilute it with water and ice which turns it white, (earning its nickname, “Lion’s Milk”). Usually odd tasting for newbies, especially if you don’t like liquorish, but it goes down easily with food and, like the classic Jello-shot, packs a wallop you don’t feel until you stand up.


Our stomachs suitably wakened, we moved to the entrées. Any Turkish restaurant worth its salt should at least do an adequate kebab. We ordered two, the classic adana and slightly more exotic beyti.   The first gets its name from a particularly hot city in the southeast and therefore contains a spicy mix of crushed red pepper and onion kneaded into the minced lamb. A dollop of yogurt on the side goes a long way to tempering the burn in the belly if you’re sensitive.

The beyti is quite similar except chopped, wrapped in lavash, and spiced with cumin and coriander.   I would happily use a few expletives to emphasize how tender and succulent Family Restaurant’s were but also caution anyone pursuing a diet to stay clear as they’re undoubtedly high in everything the body shouldn’t have.

Perhaps try the mantı, a sort of tiny ravioli stuffed with minced lamb or beef and topped with a sauce of yogurt, garlic and carmelized tomato paste. Our final dish was my personal favorite, hünkar beğendi, or the “Sultan’s Delight,” tender lamb chunks, but this time served on a bed of eggplant purée. In other restaurants, the dish often suffers from overly cooked lamb, too much onion, or a clumpy base, but not at Family Restaurant. In fact, I never seem to be able to order anything else when I go alone, so it’s good to take friends.


Groaned in corpulent decadence, we wince at the suggestion of dessert. The initially mouthwatering display of baklavas and pudding next to the register now seemed torturous, but I insist on the künefe. The idea of melted cheese for dessert might raise an eyebrow at first but stuffed inside shredded phylo dough and steeped in sweet rosewater syrup, it’s divine.

In general, anyone going Turkish had better forget the calorie counter and probably shouldn’t make any plans that involve movement as you’ll most likely dedicate the rest of the night to lying like a stuffed capon and belching.

Like Russian cuisine, it’s a heavy, creaming cuisine ironically more suitable for colder weather but it’s delicious and worth many trips. Also, you can’t help appreciating Ziya’s efforts to both “keep it real” and treat his customers like family guests.   “If the customer is happy,” he grins, “I’m happy too. That’s why I do it.” With such hospitality, I wouldn’t mind being adopted.

TELEPHONE(617) 277-4140

Turkish Family Restaurant
305 Washington Street
Brookline, MA 02445

WEBSITE: brooklinefamilyrestaurant.com


Mon - Wed: 7AM - 10PM
Thu - Sat: 7AM - 11PM
Sun: 8AM - 10PM

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