Munch goes to the Istanbul Grille

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Munch was not planning to stay Downtown for lunch this week.

There was a whole plan, hatched by Hanger-On Of Munch (HOOM) to score a free meal by introducing Munch to "the best place ever."

But Thursday came and went. HOOM had forgotten.

On Monday, HOOM was all excited at 11:30 when Munch's stomach started to growl, but then discovered that this fabulous restaurant was closed on Mondays. HOOM was distraught.

Munch had a backup plan: Istanbul Grille. Munch had spotted it a while ago on a walk across town.

There is no menu at the Istanbul Grille, Downtown at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Ninth Street.

"Why do you need one?" the owner said, when everything is visible to the prospective diner.

He's right, everything is right there, and he describes it all when you step up to the counter and it all has the same price: $7.99.

You want the lamb and eggplant, served in a tomato sauce with sliced tomatoes on top? $7.99. Like everything else it comes with a side of rice or bulgar and a salad.

You want the cabbage stuffed with lamb? $7.99

The lamb gyro meat? $7.99.

And for this summer the owner, Coskun Gokalp, is thinking about serving three small cold appetizers with a salad for $5.

Istanbul Grille is, to use classic Pittsburghese directions, where Yovi's Chicago Dogs used to be. Back in the days of Yovi's, the place was bustling, the cash register was humming, but word has it that there was some sort of tax problem and the dogs were put out. Then Moby Fish moved in, and did not last.

Now the food there is Turkish, and the amazing thing about Istanbul Grille is the reaction from customers.

As Munch and HOOM were standing in line, a woman turned around and asked if we had eaten there before. We said we had not and she started talking to HOOM about how good the food was.

There was not much there, a steam table with bins of hot food at the counter, the rice and bulgar behind and two giant gyros, one with lamb the other with chicken, just slowly spinning and waiting for the knife to slice off a little bit of culinary heaven.

HOOM had the chicken gyro meat with sides of bulgar, which was cooked with tomato, and the salad. She was also interested in the cabbage stuffed with lamb, so Coskun gave her one and said to try it. We split it, oh my, it was perfect. The lamb stuffing was moist, without being wet. None of the food was too spicy, though HOOM dumped some of the Grille's hot sauce on her chicken gyro plate.

Munch ordered the lamb and eggplant in the tomato sauce. Again, it was not spicy, the flavors were just melded together.

Munch was really happy.

So were the other diners. Two women were sitting at one counter and a man, whom one of them may have known, was on a stool across the restaurant when they started comparing food, each one gushing about how good it was.

And they were right.

Forget the other place HOOM. We will go there someday.

Now HOOM can sit in the office and convince other co-workers to buy lunch at Istanbul Grille, saying in that intense way, "it's the best place ever, really."



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