Istanbul Cafe is a wonderful new coffee shop at Eglinton and Redpath that celebrates the culture of Turkey. It brings a much-needed independent twist to otherwise corporate cafes in the area, and the neighbourhood is responding with a very understandable enthusiasm.
First there's the coffee. For those unfamiliar, Turkish coffee begins as a beans ground to a very fine powder, mixed with cold water and then heated to just before boiling, poured slowly into a warmed espresso sized cup, and at Istanbul Cafe, served with two Turkish delight.
They use a very traditional Turkish coffee brand that is widely reported as 'the best'- Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi 1871 . The resulting coffee is surprisingly bright flavoured with a high acidity and rich aftertaste, and the Turkish delight - so good. For espresso-based drinks, they use a custom Istanbul CafĂŠ blend made for them by Social Coffee Co. on their La Marzocco machine, and make everything from espressos ($2.75) to a flat white ($3.40).
Owner Nurten Celikhan has created a warm and inviting space to linger over these great beverages. Her own photography, snapshots from various communities in Turkey, line the walls, while various types of seating, big comfy wingback tables, communal and smaller work tables and sofas form areas in with to relax.
Traditional hollowed, pierced and decorated gourds that hang over the tables and counters provide light, and there is even a fireplace whose surrounding chairs have kilim rug pillows.
You can get the usual cafĂŠ treats like muffins ($2.50), sandwiches and scones (provided by Cinq) but why you would order those things when they have homemade Turkish pastries and savoury dishes is beyond me.
Some may recognize things like the baklava (pistachio or walnut $1.10 each), but they also carry some what less familiar pastries like Sari Burma $1.10, Sekerpare, a lemony semolina pastry ($2.50) or revani ($4.30) another semolina-based cake with coconut.
For savoury items, Celikhan brings in stuffed grapevine leaves sprinkled with sumac (5 for $5.20), a casserole of rice and chicken studded with currants and covered with pastry ($4.40), cheese ($5.60).
There's also spinach borek ($3.50) - layers of feta or spinach between philo and baked, a hot lentil soup dusted with sumac and mint, or the Pogaca, a kind of Turkish bagel or bread coated on top with Nigella seeds and stuffed with spinach.
She even carries Uludac, a traditional Turkish pop. All of the Turkish food was well executed, comforting and delicious, and makes a perfect addition to an early coffee or a late lunch.
Istanbul Cafe, with its inviting interior, novel food and drinks and kind staff, should be a must-visit place for anyone in the area. Heck, I'd advise you make it a destination even if you are halfway across town.
Photos by Jesse Milns.