I had dinner recently with my friends Marcie, whom I've known and loved for 5 years, and Stacy, who is new to my extended family and welcomed wholeheartedly. We ate an utterly sublime meal at Ayse's Cafe, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.
Ayse [EYE-shuh], the owner and cook, is Turkish, and she makes luscious food that is distinctly different than anything you've eaten before. Yes, there is familiarity if you've eaten Middle Eastern or Greek food; but the spice blends and ingredients are unique to Turkey. The cuisine has been greatly influenced by the country's situation between both Europe and Asia, surrounded by such diverse neighbors as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; it is also bordered by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Fruits and vegetables are essential elements of Turkish cooking, as are lamb (pork is generally not eaten, as Turkey is a mostly Muslim country), chicken, and fish. The spice blends are complex, but the food is not spicy; there is an underlying sweetness to many dishes. Milk-based desserts are enormously popular, and puddings are quite varied. Baked sweets are essential to accompany intense, dark coffee.
By the way, if you've ever eaten baklava, Turkish delight candies, shish kebab or rice pilaf, then you, too, have experienced just a hint of the great joy of this fabulous cuisine!
But now that a bit of background has been provided, let's get back to the girlfriends' dinner ....
In addition to the soup, I also thoroughly enjoyed the Spinach Chickpea Stew pictured above. It cost only $3.95 for what is called a "side order," but it was easily more than a measuring cup's worth - an ideal size for a light meal. The chickpeas were exquisitely tender while still retaining their shape; the spinach had been cooked down until it it had been nearly reduced to just its flavorful essence. I truly wished I'd ordered a full entree, it was so good!
There are also boreks, vegetarian or meat "pies" made with phyllo dough, which cost $3.95. And small sausage-shaped lentil rolls can be enjoyed for only $1. A multitude of desserts is available, from brownies to yogurt cake to pumpkin and carrot-walnut treats (prices vary), in addition a variety of puddings for just $3.25. You can enjoy a simple, creamy rice pudding or the Turkish favorite - Noah's pudding - which features grains and dried fruits.
Marcie, unfortunately, suffers from a number of food-related allergies, intolerances, and other miseries; she is a fabulous cook and a consummate food enthusiast, and yet, eating has become difficult for her. Much to the restaurant's credit, Ayse and her staff truly took personal care of Marcie and made sure to help her sort out what items she could enjoy. The cafe offers many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes which accommodate customers with special diets. Our waitresses went back-and-forth repeatedly to find answers about ingredients and to ask questions of Marcie to narrow down some options so that she could eat a fabulous meal.
It was great fun to sit and talk about food - from the novelty of black rice to Southern matzah balls made with Creole spices and pecans - with two women who are integral to Ann Arbor's food community. Marcie is the charming hostess who offers walking and tasting tours of the city with Savor Ann Arbor; and Stacy is the extraordinary cook and visionary behind What's Cooking, which lets customers order healthy, freshly prepared meals for delivery. To enjoy a luscious dinner with such fabulous company was a great treat!
Ayse's Cafe is bright and cheerful, offering tremendous hospitality and amazing food. You can indulge in many exceptional items there without breaking your budget.
1703 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Lunch: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., Monday through Friday
Dinner: 5 - 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday
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