I’d be incredibly nervous opening a Mediterranean restaurant in this town. The competition is stiff to say the least. What with local favorites such as Layla’s, Istanbul, Leo’s, and a host of other beloved establishments, you might wonder if there is really still room in this market for such cuisine. However, folks seem to seriously cherish their gyro meat and just about everyone in Pulaski County goes gaga for good hummus. I’m fairly confident we’ll continue to see the arrival of many more such restaurants around town as long as patrons continue to gobble the stuff up.
Little Rock’s latest addition to the flourishing Mediterranean market recently opened its doors in the Colonnade Shopping Center on Bowman Rd. Anatolia sprouted up rather quickly it seemed, but while they’re still getting their gears in motion, they’ve been seeing steady business already from passerby traffic noticing their roadside “Now Open” sign. Plus, it’s pretty difficult to pass by that sign (pictured above) featuring a jolly cartoon man carrying a Samurai-sized knife, preparing to demolish a large slab of roasting meat.
I stopped by this weekend past to get a sample of the menu and to see what they offered to this corner of West Little Rock. Walking in and looking around, the place is peaceful and simply decorated. A couple dozen tables, a few pictures hang on the walls featuring far off exotic locations. There’s a walk up counter for those interested in picking up their food to go, or you may simply seat yourself and get table service.
The two owners mentioned they were from Turkey, but they spent most of their time behind doors in the kitchen. The rest of the staff we interacted with were friendly and appeared grateful we had come to visit.
The menu will not likely surprise anyone familiar with such restaurants. Appetizers include hummus with pita bread, cacik (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), felafel, and stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki sauce. Though, we didn’t sample these on this initial visit, the “sigara boregi” caught our eye—fried phyllo flutes stuffed with feta and mozzarella cheeses. A lentil soup, tabouleh salad, and eggplant salad round out the first half of the menu.
A dozen or so entrees make up the remainder of the menu. Standards such as beef and chicken gyros are found here. Apparently, they haven’t started serving lamb as of yet, but our server assured us it would be on the menu at some point. Kebabs come in a number of flavors.
We had the mixed grill, a hodge-podge of many of the listed entrees, which comes portioned “for one” or “for two.”
Our beef gyro was flavorful but a little on the dry side. Of course, it’s always difficult to say just how long gyro meat has been resting on the skewer before it’s actually ordered and served, but perhaps this had been on the skewer a touch too long. Perhaps with a steady flow of orders leaving the kitchen, this will change. Our chicken gyro was fantastic however. Bits of crispy, translucent chicken skin clung to moist, tender white and dark meat. A real pleasure. Next came the “kofte kebap”—ground beef patties mixed with spiced and flame grilled. These had a nice texture, crunchy outside, soft interior, but they could have used a bit more spice. As they were, they came out a bit on the mild side, nothing we were overly ecstatic about. Two skewered kebabs were presented, one of diced marinated chicken, the other chunks of marinated beef. Here the beef fared better than that of the gyro. It was tender and moist, but a little on the small side. The chicken, likewise, was smallish but flavorful and enjoyable. A few slices of roasted tomato and zucchini sat alongside the proteins, and all rested comfortable on a bed of seasoned rice. The gratis pita and butter appeared to be of the store-bought variety, unlikely to have been made in house, but it was at least soft and light.
I always hope new restaurants hit their stride as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Given the deep-seated love in Little Rock for cuisine of this type, my guess is they’ll have their chance to impress (or disappoint) a number of guests in the near future. The competition won’t make it easy, but Anatolia may just have enough to keep this Mediterranean ship afloat.
Anatolia is located at 315 N. Bowman Rd. Ste 2, Little Rock. Hours: Tues-Thurs 11-2 pm, 5-8:30 pm. Fri-Sat 11-2 pm, 5-9:30 pm. Sunday 10-3 pm, Closed Monday.
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