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Sultan Baklava’s Turkish hospitality

“Please, sit. Try our Turkish breakfast.”

Pistachio and rose water, beautiful pastries front the Ottoman Empire.
Pistachio and rose water, beautiful pastries front the Ottoman Empire.
Video:

TIN FORK: Sultan Baklava's Turkish hospitality


It’s morning in El Cajon. But it could almost be morning in Istanbul. I’m here sipping Turkish coffee among Turkish folk in a gold-trimmed maroon room in the oldest building in El Cajon, situated at Magnolia and East Main.

I’ve always wanted to do this: sip Turkish coffee while nibbling Turkish Delight. (I had noticed this place the other evening. It was busy with people meeting for coffee and selecting goodies from glistening displays of filo pastries. I couldn’t wait to try them myself.) This is all happening at Sultan Baklava and Sultan Mediterranean Grill, an eatery that’s divided into a restaurant and bakery-cafe. I started off in the bakery side, dazzled by the sophistication of the pastries, and the decor, and the Turkish-style coffee cups (white china inside beaten metal holders). But then I started hankering after brekky. A true Turkish breakfast. What do they eat?

Breakfast companion - Mirza with his breakfast.

So this morning, I’m back. Except now, most of the customers are outside, sunning themselves on the patio next to Prescott Promenade, the urban park near the El Cajon courthouse. A mix, looks like, of Turkish men and women, the latter in pastel-colored robes, talking and laughing with each other.

Of course, Turkish coffee is a Turkish delight in itself. The wafting scent of that strong brew hooks me right in. I see it steaming up from the cups hiding in their hammered metal holders, and I order one from Agust, the barista behind the counter. “If I take too long,” he says, “call me, ‘September.’”

And of course, the making of the coffee takes time. Turkish coffee has ultra fine grounds, intense flavor, and lots of ceremony: the combining of water and grounds, the measuring of the sugar, etc. (Az sekerli? Low sweetness? Orta sekerli? Medium sweetness? Sekerli? Full-on rich and sweet, frothed to the top?)

Influential customers - Grossmont College President Denise Whisenhunt has brought her staff to a Turkish feast.

’Course, I go total sekerli. Small cup costs me $3.50 and comes with a plug of cardamom. Plus, I have chosen one modest piece of what I thought was Turkish Delight but turns out to be baklava (72 cents). Whatever — along with the kinda haunting Turkish music, and the exquisitely-made pastries, this sunny Thursday morning in El Cajon is turning into a surprise treat.

Now Bella, who’s minding the counter at the back, passes me with two steaming dishes. One looks like a ring of sausage discs around a bunch of sautéed eggs, the other is a series of plates loaded with cheeses, olives, cucumbers, a yogurty mess, and, in the middle, four rolled filo dough pastries stuffed with cheese. I think she says it’s called borek.

I follow her outside. She heads for a table in the sun where two men sit sipping golden tea from glasses, talking. In Turkish, it turns out.

“Please, sit,” says the first, Mirza, when he notices me hovering. “Try our Turkish breakfast.”

I’ve heard of Turkish hospitality, but this is really, well, nice. I do. Sit. Start nibbling from a beef sausage, from chunks of goat cheese, all the time watching as the other fellow, Abdulkadir, folds a triangular piece of flatbread and scoop-dips it through the puddle of kaymak, a honey-drenched, delish-looking gloop. He hands it to me. “Try this.”

Opulent interior of Sultan’s cafe side makes you want to stay.

I also keep downing glassfuls of their tea, which, hey, is way more thirst-quenching than coffee. Finally, I get to go back and order my own $4 pot of tea, plus one of the four Turkish breakfast combos that Bella has on offer ($23, expensive, but something a group of friends can share). Except that when it comes, Mirza says “That is not Turkish food. That is Arab food. We Turks don’t eat those so much.”

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Sponsored

Huh. I look at what he has: a plate loaded with olives, chunks of goat and other cheeses, little tomatoes, slices of cucumber, kaymak — which turns out to be a kind of clotted cream-in-honey dessert, Bella says — plus four wraps of deep-fried borek (stuffed filo pastry).

Then I check my own plate. Bella called it a mixed meze platter. It has sections of hummus (chickpeas), baba ghanouj (eggplant), tzatziki (cucumbers and yogurt), falafel (broad beans or chickpeas), and, in the middle, a little plate with dolma, rolled vine leaves stuffed with a delicious, lemony, cheesy? Meaty? filling. Dolma means “stuffed” in Turkish. So that has to be Turkish or Ottoman originally, right? But maybe the rest of my plate is Arabic? “We Turks have a more Mediterranean diet,” Mirza says. “We eat the Arabic food, but as side dishes. We like our meats, kebabs! We like salt and oil. And we like it spicy if we’re from places near Syria like Urfa, where Abraham was born. They like things hot down there.”

The Abraham was born there?”

“Sure. We go way back.”

So we chew fat in the sun until ten o’clock. That’s when Mirza and Abdulkadir start collecting their gear. “We drive for Uber Eats,” says Mirza. “Got to start taking food to other people.”

Spinach rolls - too burnished and beautiful to eat.

“Do you come back here for dinners?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Their breakfast is what we like best,” he says.

Place

Sultan Baklava

165 East Main Street, San Diego


I think about this food from the Cradle of Civilization, versus my simple All-Bran morning routine. Which is healthier? Many say Middle Eastern cuisine is the healthiest there is, with its lean proteins, healthy fats, tons of veggies and grains. The use of za-atar and cumin spices. Yet how can all this stuff which tastes so good be so good for you? Guess I’ll have to consult the lovely Diane, or better still, bring her down here. It’s not cheap, but on this sunny morning, listening to the burble of multilingual conversation coming from inside, as well as from this parkside patio, it sure feels worth every penny.

The Place: Sultan Baklava, 165 E. Main Street, El Cajon; 619-499-7426

Hours: 9am - 9pm daily

Prices: Falafel sandwich, $10; veggie combo plate, $12; baba ghanouj, $7; falafel plate, $12; tabuli salatasi (parsley grain salad), $8; sucuklu pide (sausage or pastirme with mozzarella cheese), $12; doner kebab, $14; kuzu sis (lamb, salad, rice), $19; tovuk (chicken) sandwich, $10; musakka (ground beef, eggplant, rice), $12; kuru fasulye (white beans, veggies, rice), $12; kuzu incik (lamb shank, eggplant, rice), $16; most pastries around $3-4 each, sold by weight

Buses: 815, 888

Nearest Bus Stop: Claydelle at Main

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Pistachio and rose water, beautiful pastries front the Ottoman Empire.
Pistachio and rose water, beautiful pastries front the Ottoman Empire.
Video:

TIN FORK: Sultan Baklava's Turkish hospitality


It’s morning in El Cajon. But it could almost be morning in Istanbul. I’m here sipping Turkish coffee among Turkish folk in a gold-trimmed maroon room in the oldest building in El Cajon, situated at Magnolia and East Main.

I’ve always wanted to do this: sip Turkish coffee while nibbling Turkish Delight. (I had noticed this place the other evening. It was busy with people meeting for coffee and selecting goodies from glistening displays of filo pastries. I couldn’t wait to try them myself.) This is all happening at Sultan Baklava and Sultan Mediterranean Grill, an eatery that’s divided into a restaurant and bakery-cafe. I started off in the bakery side, dazzled by the sophistication of the pastries, and the decor, and the Turkish-style coffee cups (white china inside beaten metal holders). But then I started hankering after brekky. A true Turkish breakfast. What do they eat?

Breakfast companion - Mirza with his breakfast.

So this morning, I’m back. Except now, most of the customers are outside, sunning themselves on the patio next to Prescott Promenade, the urban park near the El Cajon courthouse. A mix, looks like, of Turkish men and women, the latter in pastel-colored robes, talking and laughing with each other.

Of course, Turkish coffee is a Turkish delight in itself. The wafting scent of that strong brew hooks me right in. I see it steaming up from the cups hiding in their hammered metal holders, and I order one from Agust, the barista behind the counter. “If I take too long,” he says, “call me, ‘September.’”

And of course, the making of the coffee takes time. Turkish coffee has ultra fine grounds, intense flavor, and lots of ceremony: the combining of water and grounds, the measuring of the sugar, etc. (Az sekerli? Low sweetness? Orta sekerli? Medium sweetness? Sekerli? Full-on rich and sweet, frothed to the top?)

Influential customers - Grossmont College President Denise Whisenhunt has brought her staff to a Turkish feast.

’Course, I go total sekerli. Small cup costs me $3.50 and comes with a plug of cardamom. Plus, I have chosen one modest piece of what I thought was Turkish Delight but turns out to be baklava (72 cents). Whatever — along with the kinda haunting Turkish music, and the exquisitely-made pastries, this sunny Thursday morning in El Cajon is turning into a surprise treat.

Now Bella, who’s minding the counter at the back, passes me with two steaming dishes. One looks like a ring of sausage discs around a bunch of sautéed eggs, the other is a series of plates loaded with cheeses, olives, cucumbers, a yogurty mess, and, in the middle, four rolled filo dough pastries stuffed with cheese. I think she says it’s called borek.

I follow her outside. She heads for a table in the sun where two men sit sipping golden tea from glasses, talking. In Turkish, it turns out.

“Please, sit,” says the first, Mirza, when he notices me hovering. “Try our Turkish breakfast.”

I’ve heard of Turkish hospitality, but this is really, well, nice. I do. Sit. Start nibbling from a beef sausage, from chunks of goat cheese, all the time watching as the other fellow, Abdulkadir, folds a triangular piece of flatbread and scoop-dips it through the puddle of kaymak, a honey-drenched, delish-looking gloop. He hands it to me. “Try this.”

Opulent interior of Sultan’s cafe side makes you want to stay.

I also keep downing glassfuls of their tea, which, hey, is way more thirst-quenching than coffee. Finally, I get to go back and order my own $4 pot of tea, plus one of the four Turkish breakfast combos that Bella has on offer ($23, expensive, but something a group of friends can share). Except that when it comes, Mirza says “That is not Turkish food. That is Arab food. We Turks don’t eat those so much.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Huh. I look at what he has: a plate loaded with olives, chunks of goat and other cheeses, little tomatoes, slices of cucumber, kaymak — which turns out to be a kind of clotted cream-in-honey dessert, Bella says — plus four wraps of deep-fried borek (stuffed filo pastry).

Then I check my own plate. Bella called it a mixed meze platter. It has sections of hummus (chickpeas), baba ghanouj (eggplant), tzatziki (cucumbers and yogurt), falafel (broad beans or chickpeas), and, in the middle, a little plate with dolma, rolled vine leaves stuffed with a delicious, lemony, cheesy? Meaty? filling. Dolma means “stuffed” in Turkish. So that has to be Turkish or Ottoman originally, right? But maybe the rest of my plate is Arabic? “We Turks have a more Mediterranean diet,” Mirza says. “We eat the Arabic food, but as side dishes. We like our meats, kebabs! We like salt and oil. And we like it spicy if we’re from places near Syria like Urfa, where Abraham was born. They like things hot down there.”

The Abraham was born there?”

“Sure. We go way back.”

So we chew fat in the sun until ten o’clock. That’s when Mirza and Abdulkadir start collecting their gear. “We drive for Uber Eats,” says Mirza. “Got to start taking food to other people.”

Spinach rolls - too burnished and beautiful to eat.

“Do you come back here for dinners?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Their breakfast is what we like best,” he says.

Place

Sultan Baklava

165 East Main Street, San Diego


I think about this food from the Cradle of Civilization, versus my simple All-Bran morning routine. Which is healthier? Many say Middle Eastern cuisine is the healthiest there is, with its lean proteins, healthy fats, tons of veggies and grains. The use of za-atar and cumin spices. Yet how can all this stuff which tastes so good be so good for you? Guess I’ll have to consult the lovely Diane, or better still, bring her down here. It’s not cheap, but on this sunny morning, listening to the burble of multilingual conversation coming from inside, as well as from this parkside patio, it sure feels worth every penny.

The Place: Sultan Baklava, 165 E. Main Street, El Cajon; 619-499-7426

Hours: 9am - 9pm daily

Prices: Falafel sandwich, $10; veggie combo plate, $12; baba ghanouj, $7; falafel plate, $12; tabuli salatasi (parsley grain salad), $8; sucuklu pide (sausage or pastirme with mozzarella cheese), $12; doner kebab, $14; kuzu sis (lamb, salad, rice), $19; tovuk (chicken) sandwich, $10; musakka (ground beef, eggplant, rice), $12; kuru fasulye (white beans, veggies, rice), $12; kuzu incik (lamb shank, eggplant, rice), $16; most pastries around $3-4 each, sold by weight

Buses: 815, 888

Nearest Bus Stop: Claydelle at Main

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