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Anatolia faces stiff competition 

New Mediterranean restaurant needs work.

It's got to be a bit intimidating opening a Mediterranean restaurant in Little Rock. 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 still room in this market for more. However, folks seem to seriously cherish their gyro meat and just about everyone in Pulaski County goes gaga for good hummus.

Little Rock's latest addition to the flourishing Mediterranean market recently opened its doors in the Colonnade Shopping Center on Bowman Road. It's easy to overlook — squeezed between a Little Caesars and an electronic cigarette outlet. Just be on the look out for their large sign featuring a jolly cartoon man carrying a Samurai-sized knife, preparing to demolish a large slab of roasting meat.

The place is sparsely 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 menu holds no surprises. Appetizers include hummus with pita bread, cacik (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), falafel, and stuffed grape leaves with Tzatziki sauce. We chose the "sigara boregi" or cigar pastry ($4.49). The menu promised us a few rolls of fried phyllo dough stuffed with feta and mozzarella. What we were served was merely filled with mozzarella — apparently the kitchen did not have feta in stock that day. The pastry was hot, clearly fried up to order, and the cheese was sufficiently melted inside. The flavor fell a little flat, however, and the phyllo was bland. We suspect the feta would have helped significantly. 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.

A dozen or so entrees make up the remainder of the menu. Standards such as beef and chicken gyros are found here. Surprisingly, they're not serving lamb as of yet, but our server assured us it would be on the menu at some point.

We had the mixed grill kebap ($15.99), a hodge-podge of many of the listed entrees, which comes portioned for one or two.

Our beef gyro was flavorful but a little dry. Perhaps it had been on the roasting skewer just a touch too long. Our chicken gyro was better, however — moist, tender white and dark meat with crispy skin.

Next came the kofte kebap — ground beef patties mixed with spices and flame-grilled. These had a nice texture, crunchy outside, soft inside, but they could have used a bit more spice.

The meal also included two skewered kebabs, 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 the portion was rather small. The chicken, likewise, was smallish but flavorful and enjoyable. A few slices of roasted tomato and zucchini sat alongside the proteins, and all rested comfortably on a bed of seasoned rice.

On a subsequent visit, we also sampled the chicken gyro wrap ($5.99) — a 9-inch pita envelope of roasted chunks of chicken, tomatoes, onion, lettuce and Tzatziki sauce. The chicken was generously seasoned, salty and a bit spicy, but had an odd chewiness. The tangy Tzatziki improved the flavor overall, and the vegetables were fresh. The wrap came alongside a handful of fries that undoubtedly were of the frozen and bagged variety, merely thrown into the fryer with each order. They were flavorless.

Only time will tell if Anatolia has what it takes to make it in a town already swarming with Mediterranean fare. The restaurant is clean, and the service and welcome we've received has been nothing but warm and friendly. Many Little Rock residents have a soft spot for the dishes they're offering — perhaps that's enough to keep Anatolia afloat.

Anatolia

315 N. Bowman Road, Suite 2

QUICK BITE

A few non-Mediterranean items appear on Anatolia's menu — cheeseburgers, spaghetti, filet mignon and a jerk chicken salad. Many entrees come served with a house salad or soup-of-the-day, and in general, you'll find Anatolia's food reasonably priced and adequately portioned.

HOURS

11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sunday.

Other info

No alcohol, credit cards accepted

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