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Jun 15
Reviews (Eats)
Adana Ocakbaşı: Carnivore Happy Hour

At 6 p.m. on a Monday evening, the dining room of Adana Ocakbaşı was nearly full and the wide grill in the corner was covered with skewers loaded with meat. While most restaurants, worldwide, were closed or waiting for a slow night to start, this neighborhood kebab house was busting through a bumper rush of early birds in for a quick lamb chop or two on the way home. The dinner crowd had not even arrived.

“This place will ruin you,” said our waiter showing us to two stools at the marble counter that circles the grill, the smoking heart of the room. “You wont be able to eat meat anywhere else.”

The usta behind the grill skewered, slapped, turned, shifted, spiced and plated meat with the concentration of a tantric yogi. When he reached a relatively calm moment in his grilling cycle, he gently mixed a bucketful of sumac and raw, chopped onions with his hands – all of it an awesome sight of endurance. If we were going to be ruined we might as well enjoy the show.

Along with a bottle of rakı, we ordered a couple of starters: an excellent ezme, a relish of finely chopped onions, tomatoes, red peppers and plenty of parsley dressed with olive oil and pomegranate molasses; and közde patlıcan, a whole eggplant grilled until the inside has gone meltingly floppy and then peeled. Served with small fresh rounds of tırnaklı ekmek, a flatbread ubiquitous in kebab houses, the meze clearly play a supporting role to the meat here, but they were simple and delicious.

We soon moved onto the stars of the show, ordering a couple of skewers of just about everything we’d seen on the grill. Small cubes of lamb liver and çöp şiş, tiny bits of marinated beef bookended by slivers of fat, came out first. There is an entire classification of restaurants in Istanbul devoted specifically to grilled liver and çöp şiş and not one of them serves liver as tender and succulent as Adana Ocakbaşı. It would be well worth a visit for the liver alone, but a crime to leave before the parade of bone-in cuts made their way from the grill.

The lamb chops and ribs, liberally dusted in red pepper and thyme, were so juicy they drenched the thin sheet of lavaş beneath, making it all the more palatable. The beyti kebabı – in our favorite rendition, a skewer of Urfa wrapped in lavaş, cut into slices and drizzled with tomato sauce and yogurt – was nothing more than a skewer of Urfa kebab, minimalist for a beyti, but exceptionally tasty.

Already full and hooked on this place, we needed a little something more to tide us over until the next visit.  Scanning the grill, we asked about uykuluk, or sweetbreads, a specialty often found on kebab house menus but rarely in stock. Within minutes our usta was sliding a dozen or so small charred orbs onto a plate for us. Springy in texture, this uykuluk carried a characteristic whiff of organ meat, which stood up well against the spice dusting and the char from the grill. These well-prepared sweetbreads, more than the meat even, were our personal ruination.

Paying the modest bill and leaving the room packed with people feasting on prime cuts of lamb, we felt as if we’d just been initiated into a carnivorous club. We imagined one day having two seats at the grill designated as “our usual” spot. If being “ruined” means becoming a regular here, that’s a fate we welcome.

Address: Ergenekon Caddesi, Baysungur Sokak 8, Pangaltı
Telephone: 212-247-0143     

(photo by Ansel Mullins)

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9 Responses to “ Adana Ocakbaşı: Carnivore Happy Hour ”
  1. You very kindly gave us Google Maps for a few, now no more?

  2. Honestly that is the only thing this site lacks: the Google map position of the restaurants. Often it is difficult to surmise the true location given the problem Google has with Istanbul addresses, so someone who actually knows the street location provides a very useful service.

  3. try yandex panoramic istanbul map or municipality’s map service. you can google it or go directly from here. Both have search function.

  4. Thanks Semih!

  5. Visiting Istanbul for 8 nights Aug/Sep, i am a single male and travelling alone. Would be grateful for any advice on where to eat and drink on a budget, how easy is it to get around, and are there any no go areas. Many thanks s.

  6. Went this evening… It was closed…

  7. As mentioned above, it would be great if you could spend a few minutes to pinpoint the locations of all the posts in google maps. Sometimes I have to give up finding places on google maps because it doesn’t understand the adress or they’re spelt differently – which can give you all kinds of alternative spots. If I’m lucky the place has a website or there’s an alternative site with a better explanation.

  8. I ate at this place…Was fantastic. It was not as described (i didn’t see any eggplants or ezme—but I didn’t ask). The lamb chops here are worth the visit, the surrounding neighborhood of Kurtulus is also really nice, quiet and has character, such a nice change from the touristic areas of Taksim and Sultanahmet. The food was excellent and waiter was also very friendly and kind, I would definitely come back to this place.

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