Turks drink a stronger, sludgier version of what Americans know coffee to be. It's foamy and muddy looking, and like an Italian espresso, it can give a jolt to those scant caffeine imbibers.
But with the drink comes an endearing tradition. Turks cover the small ceramic mug in which the coffee is served with its saucer and flip it over. The finely ground coffee grinds that settled to the bottom when drinking slowly slither down the side of the upside down mug, and from the patterns and shapes formed in the wet, gritty grinds "fortunes" — usually wildly derived stories — are read.
"It's a custom — people having fun looking at your future steps and guessing some nice things," said Huseyin Ustunkaya, who co-owns Anatolia with his brother, Harun. "But one time, we had 10 people come in after a wedding party, and our hostess told them she would look at their fortunes. She told the couple, 'You will have a baby very soon.' And they said, 'Oh no, we are not planning for two years.' [The woman] walked in five months later and she was pregnant. She pointed at our hostess and said, 'You knew.'"
To dine at Anatolia, Nashville's only Turkish restaurant, is to experience the nuances of the brothers' native culture. Huseyin, 39, and Harun, 35, were born in Antalya, a city on the lush Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey, to a restaurateur father.
Their dishes are authentic recipes mastered by Harun, Anatolia's head chef, during his days working the kitchens of Turkey's five star hotels. Kilims, or Turkish woven rugs, and ceramic dishes line the walls as does a painting of a regal looking mosque — it's minarets reaching toward the clouds. And, Turkish folk music plays softly throughout the dining room.
What foods were you raised on?
Huseyin: Always lamb dishes and seafood. We are close to the sea and we like to eat the seafood from anchovies to trout and calamari. We can always get it fresh. And fruits from figs to peaches, all kinds of grapes, apricots, all kinds of cherries — sour, sweet, black, red.
Harun: Barbeque — lamb, chicken, fish and Mom's homecooking — stew or eggplant dishes, dolma, soups, salads.
What are your earliest memories in the kitchen?
Huseyin: Eggplant dishes. My father used to make awesome eggplant dishes. He ran a restaurant. It was a small place named Tauras after a mountain.
Harun: I remember making scrambled eggs at an early age, maybe age 6 or 7. We call it, 'menemen,' it's eggs, tomato, peppers and onion and a little spices. It's a very popular Turkish breakfast; it's a Turkish-style omelet.
Why did you chose to go into the hospitality business?
Huseyin: We like to serve people. I like to travel, and tourism means travel to different cities and meeting different people. It's a social field...We worked for the Marriott hotels in Turkey. They offered us a job in Nashville at the Marriott Airport Hotel for practical training. We worked there and for Gaylord. We worked for the serving department doing banquets and big parties. When we came to the U.S., we were planning to open our own business. It just took four or five years to discover the place and for it to be ready. We traveled to all big cities — Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Miami — but we liked the living style and environment in Nashville, and especially the people. [The reception] in Nashville was better than expected. We got a really big response. It's a popular place. We get recognized everywhere — in Cool Springs, East Nashville. They may not remember our names, but they'll say, 'We know you from somewhere,' and then they'll discover it's from Anatolia.
Harun: My brother was studying tourism and hotel management and I was really interested in how to work in a hotel business. It seemed like a fun major. I started an internship at a hotel. I worked the restaurant bar and kitchen so I mainly trained under food and beverage.
Which dish from the menu are you most proud of?
Huseyin: Lamb chops, our signature dish. My favorite is the chicken shish kabob. I eat it more than any other dish. It's really light, tasty, tender, juicy.
Harun: I cannot say one dish. All of them I really work to make them the best. We don't like to just serve food, we want to make people happy.
Where are your recipes from?
Huseyin: We worked in the five-star hotels in Turkey. And, my brother had the experience in the five-star hotels in the kitchen.
What is your favorite ingredient?
Harun: Red pepper and oregano. Red pepper gives spice and oregano gives taste.
What is your favorite cooking tool?
Harun: The grill. You can cook a lot of stuff on it, and the right temperature makes a difference.
Huseyin: When we are [cooking] seafood on the grill, we cover the grill. We use a pan to cover the fish on the grill — we are steaming, so the steam gives more heating and you are decreasing the cooking time.
What would I find in your refrigerator at home?
Huseyin: Always fruit. We are never without fruit. Vegetables. I don't know anything about the kitchen. My wife, she takes care of everything. She doesn't give me permission to even do the salad. She's a great chef. I always ask chefs if they cook at home and they say always, 'No, my wife does the cooking.'
Harun: I usually eat here [at Anatolia]. I prefer my food.
What would I find in your CD player?
Huseyin: Sezen Aksu. He's a real famous singer in Turkey.
Harun: Sezen Aksu. He's the most popular singer in Turkey.
What do you eat on a normal day?
Huseyin: I like to eat different every day. One day is chicken, one day is beans and salad. I like to eat varied, but mostly white meat — chicken and fish.
Harun: Mostly things from the grill — chicken shish kabob, lamb, fish and salad and rice.
What would you never eat?
Harun: Seafood. I like fish, but not seafood that is soft and juicy like scallops.
What is your most memorable experience at the helm of Anatolia?
Huseyin: Former governors, they come to the kitchen and they say how they enjoyed the food, and people coming in from other states — they drive like four or five hours just for this place — it makes us feel special. A group of 20 or 30 people come from Evansville, Ind. on a bus.
What is your most memorable dining experience?
Harun: When I was at the hotel in 1993 I had a chef and I was finishing my internship and I was leaving the hotel and my chef cooked me lamb chops and chicken on the grill and made a salad. It was the finest food. It was a good memory with my relationship with the chef and it was a good meal to me.
Any kitchen horror stories?
Huseyin: Our first day open, we prepared the breads and they weren't the right shape. [The baker] was shocked. It was in strange shapes. [The loaf] should be round, but it was shaped like an octopus.
Harun: In 1993, I was at the buffet serving breakfast and I was trying to light a Sterno (a buffet burner) and the liquid poured onto the table and burst into flames. [The restaurant] was filled with people and I was so scared the hotel was going to burn. I just held the skirt of the table over the flames and covered them and they went out. I thought everyone saw me, and I looked around, but no one saw me. That was a horror. It was the scariest time of my kitchen life.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
Huseyin: Baklava. I shouldn't eat it every day but for the last four years almost every day I've eaten it. Also, kunefe (a Turkish dessert made of phyllo dough, which is shredded and baked with cheese and topped with warm syrup). It is difficult to find even in Turkey. Most restaurants don't serve it because it's a lot of labor, but it's a really outstanding dessert.
Harun: Bread. In our culture, we like bread, and it's one of the main items on the table. We like it a lot.
If you weren't a chef, what would your dream job be?
Harun: Private bartending because I like to talk to people, communicate, and you can talk face to face at the bar while you are working.
What is a little known fact about yourself?
Huseyin: I am learning Spanish to communicate with some of my employees from El Salvador.
Harun: Some people say I am quiet. Sometimes I am very calm, sometimes I have a very angry temper.
48 White Bridge Road