Restaurant Report: Ephesus Mediterranean Grill

Growing up can be tough, and the transition from high school to college, work, and/or real life is often a jolt. But imagine if one day you were handed your high school diploma and the keys to a restaurant at the same time. Perhaps now with the rise of the foodie nation and chef wannabes on every corner that might sound like a dream come true, but in 2007 Mohammad Yasin, the owner/manager/chef of Ephesus Mediterranean Grill wasn't so sure.

"I don't have a background in food. My family had a partner when we opened, and we had no plans to run it," says Yasin, "but when he backed out I had to learn everything in about two weeks."

Ephesus is a kind of mixed grill with both Turkish and Greek influences that, while situated on the Cumberland Avenue Strip, appeals to a diverse group of diners. Yasin figures that, "about half of my customers are students and the rest come from around town. I get a lot of Middle-Eastern customers and folks from the International House—they like the kabobs and the appetizers."

The menu is a concise mix of kabob and gyro with salads and appetizers like falafel, baba ghannouj, and dolmathes. Yasin keeps his place mostly free of food fusion and the temptation to cross culinary borders—no baba ghannouj burger here, thank you very much. In fact there are no burgers at all. There are French fries, and one gyro option that comes in the guise of Philly steak, but even Yasin's nod to food trends, wraps, are actually deconstructed kabobs tucked inside a basil-flavored tortilla.

Yasin and his brother Azim are almost always on hand, and their family supplements the staff on the weekends—mostly because they like to eat there, which seems like a good omen. Ephesus doesn't serve beer or other alcohol, but diners are welcome to bring in wine. Better still, consider sticking to the theme and trying a traditional service of Turkish coffee or tea.

Must Haves

Ephesus and Istanbul Plates: If you ask nicely and he's not too rushed, Yasin might serve up a combination of these two plates that encompass most of the appetizer selection. His toasty Feta cheese rolls have a pleasant chew and a nicely mild sheep-cheese flavor accented with fresh parsley. Yasin's tabbouleh is a unique and slightly red offering that concentrates a little more on bulgar than parsley. The red tint and fragrant spiciness comes from Turkish pepper paste—a very tasty and welcome addition. Baba ghannouj is made with red bell peppers—the eggplant and peppers are grilled, skinned, and then hand chopped. The result is an excellently textured and smoky dip that's worth eating by the spoonful. There's also a nice hummus that's nutty and not overly garlicky, and lemony dolmathes.

Chicken Shish Kabob: This dish is a tasty example of the joys of culinary simplicity. The chicken is seasoned and grilled—and that's all there is to it. But it's beautifully grilled, remaining moist with just the barest hint of char about the edges. It comes resting on a bed of Basmati rice with slices of raw onion seasoned with sumac to mellow the bite and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with Turkish dressing.

Baklava: Happily, this is a homemade treat that features walnuts (as opposed to pistachios). Yasin exercises a moderate hand with the syrup, so it's not too sticky, and you don't feel the need to run and wash your face after having a bite. It's sweet and a little crunchy and a perfect match for a Turkish coffee.