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Beyti Kebab, New Jersey’s first Turkish restaurant, is still going strong after 23 years. It began as a halal butcher shop, becoming a full restaurant over time. The main room, lit by huge chandeliers, is simple but appropriate for this no-nonsense eatery, which people visit for the food but linger at for the conversation. On Saturday evenings there’s a belly dancer. Add to that the very good kebabs, and it’s no wonder the tables fill up even on weekdays.
You could make a meal out of the appetizers alone. The vine leaves, with a tasty filling of rice, pine nuts, and herbs drizzled with olive oil, are moist and better flavored than most. Tiny stuffed eggplant with onions and tomatoes, fried eggplant slices layered with yogurt, crisp fried phyllo-dough cigars filled with feta cheese and parsley, and the tarator (thick yogurt with walnuts, garlic, and sesame oil) are all delicious. Worth returning for are the addictive cubes of well-seasoned fried beef liver topped with a spicy fried chili, and the coban salad, the traditional Turkish shepherd’s salad comprising a refreshing mélange of diced cucumbers, tomato, and lots of parsley topped with feta cheese.
Charcoal-broiled cubes of lamb, the chicken kebabs, and the lamb patties, all marinated and served with rice, Turkish bread, and grilled tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, are moist, tender, and well flavored. The beyti kebab, skewers of ground meat with garlic and spices, are wonderful. But the lamb chops are overcooked, and the sliced döner kebab is dry. An unusual dish is the sautéed butter bread topped with yogurt and kebabs—either veal, chicken, lamb patties, or döner—the slight crispness of the bread contrasting with the smooth yogurt and catching the juices from the broiled meat.
Although five desserts are listed, only three are available when I visit: the baklava, sarma (bird’s nest), and kadayif (shredded wheat with walnuts), all predictable variations on the theme of honey-soaked pastry with either walnuts or pistachios.
Reviewed October 2005.