Restaurant Review

Where Europe Meets Asia: Bosphorus in Lake Hiawatha

Bosphorus is named for the strait that separates Europe and Asia and divides the city of Istanbul. Its Turkish cuisine is itself a bridge.

Manti, a type of Turkish ravioli.
Manti, a type of Turkish ravioli.
Photo by Shelby Vittek

Across one wall of Bosphorus in Lake Hiawatha runs a framed painting of the famous Bosphorus Bridge over the strait that separates Europe and Asia and divides the city of Istanbul. Turkish cuisine is itself a bridge, and at Bosphorus, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors mingle.

The chef/owner, Muzaffer Elmas, is a native Turk who worked as a chef in Bahrain before emigrating to New Jersey with his wife and children in 2000. He found work as a cook at Bosphorus, which had opened in 1995. In 2004, he bought the restaurant.

“We have customers who still remember the first owner,” says Rami Elmas, 32, who helps his 62-year-old father in the kitchen after his day job as an auditor. The diverse clientele ranges from couples to families with young children to tables of women wearing hijabs.

Turkish food is hearty, aromatic, flavorful and unpretentious. With more than 50 menu items, Bosphorus offers many entry points, including the small plates known as meze. Mutebbel, a silky dip made from charred, beaten eggplant mixed with garlic, yogurt and tahini, is similar to baba ghanoush. Babahanus, on the other hand, is more of a Turkish salsa, a chunky dip of eggplant and tomatoes flavored with garlic, onions and diced bell pepper. Both are included in the appetizer sampler, along with warm pita, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and squash salad, a dip made from shredded zucchini, dill and yogurt.

We enjoyed the spicy, crunchy spread called ezme, made from puréed red pepper, onions, and coarsely ground walnuts that add a pleasantly bitter note. Falafel, however, were nearly black as hockey pucks and almost as dry.

In Turkish entrées, lamb stands front and center. Elmas buys whole carcasses from Supreme Halal Meat Market in Paterson and breaks them down into their separate cuts. Unlike restaurants that purchase gyro meat ready-made, Elmas makes his in-house—about 200 pounds a week. He runs the raw cuts through a grinder twice, adding onions, red bell peppers and spices, molding the mass into a large cone to be shaved as it roasts on a rotating spit.

Charcoal-grilled lamb chops were delicious and juicy. Like all entrées, they came with a small, fresh, green salad. Shish kebab—cubes of lamb marinated at least 24 hours before grilling—were fragrant and tender. Adana kebab, a sausage-like length of spiced ground lamb, was enjoyably earthy and gamy.

The menu has a category called sautées, including chicken, spinach, calamari and shrimp. Each comes with peppers and onions. We tried the lamb. The cubed meat was chewy, the tomato-based sauce bland.

To accommodate American tastes, grilled salmon is on the menu. “When we moved here when I was 14,” says Rami, “I’d never had salmon in my life.”

At our waiter’s suggestion, we had the manti—tender dumplings stuffed with ground beef and topped with garlicky yogurt sauce and creamy tomato sauce enriched with butter and a sprinkle of dried mint. These produced a well-balanced mélange of flavors.

On a bustling Friday night, I happened to be seated next to a group of Turkish diners, regulars who come the same time each week. They had brought a bottle of raki, an unsweetened, anise-flavored spirit popular in Turkey, Albania and the Balkans. Toward the end of my dinner, they offered me a glass, slightly diluted with water in the customary manner, telling me it is “the only way to drink with meze.” It made a perfect digestif, with a slight minty edge.

Even if you tend to skip dessert, as I often do, you should snag an order of kunefe. A classic Turkish dessert with Arab origins, it’s a cheese-filled pastry made from a shredded dough, like Greek kataifi. It came to the table warm, round and deeply browned, crisp despite the infusion of sweet syrup. Topped with powdered pistachios, it was a delight.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Middle Eastern - Turkish
  • Price Range:
    Inexpensive
  • Price Details:
    Appetizers, $6-$15; entrées, $15-$23; desserts, $4-$8
  • Ambience:
    Warm, homey, inviting
  • Service:
    Friendly and helpful
  • Wine list:
    BYO