Menemen worth suffering a traffic jam for
When it comes to Brunch (organized brunch, eating-out brunch and -- especially -- Brunch as Buffet) we have one rule: we don't. Ever, anywhere. It's a tenet we've hewed to for decades and have no expection of straying from. Except in Istanbul.
Our Brunch turnaround happened on a sunny Sunday morning last November. It was the last weekend of a wonderful month in Turkey. We were in Istanbul, spending the day with a good friend who suggested starting with breakfast -- which ended up not happening till late in the morning, which technically made it Brunch. Uh-oh.
What's more, said Brunch happened in the vicinity of Rumeli Castle, which is surrounded by a slew of tea gardens and Bruncherias with almost too-picturesque Bosphorus views. On fair weekend mornings the promenade teems with Brunchers, Strutters, Yachters, Preeners and Trophy-Dog Walkers.
It's really not our scene.
But our friend Evren, whom Dave was lucky enough to land as an assistant when he worked on an Istanbul ferry boat photo project a couple of years ago, grew up in Istanbul, in a family that loves to eat. He has a healthy obsession with deliciousness. It was Evren who led us to our now-favorite Istanbul kaymak-erie and bakery. He's never let us down. We couldn't say "no" to Brunch with Evren.
True to form, when we stepped off the bus just past Rumeli castle Evren led us past the flashier Bruncheriasto Rumeli Kale Cafe, a skinny three-story structure opposite Iskele restaurant (where, ten years ago, Dave and I endured a meal of passable fish accompanied by the snootiest service imagineable).
We slipped in the back door, climbed a skinny flight of stairs and entered a narrow dining room lined with banquettes and fronted by an un-paned picture window. It was packed, but the crowd was unpretentious, the vibe low-key, the view lovely.
Evren did not order sparingly. The cafe is a favorite Sunday haunt, he told us as he picked and chose from the menu on a first pass, then picked and chose some more 15 minutes into the meal: a full Turkish breakfast (cheese, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers, raisin preserves). Eggs two ways: fried with sucuk (sausage) and semi-scrambled with tomatoes and peppers (menemen). Bal kaymak (heavenly Turkish clotted cream in a pool of honey). Crispy rolled borek oozing kasar cheese. Haloumi fried in butter.
Rumeli Kale Cafe has two upper floors, and each floor has only two window tables; most customers make do with views marred by the heads of fellow diners. Its long narrow dining room offers little See-and-Be-Seen opportunities. People come to Rumeli Kale Cafe to eat.
And we did. "Eat the borek while it's hot," Evren urged, and we obliged.
Then we moved on to the rest of it. We slathered kaymak and honey on sheets of steaming lavash periodically added to our bread basket by the waiter, broke perfectly wobbly egg yolks onto slices of sausage, forked up bits of crusty haloumi and used spoons to devour the ethereally light menemen.
In between bites of everything that was bad for us we drank tea ("It melts fat!" Dave kept insisting) and nibbled on tomatoes and cucumbers and green cayenne peppers. We chatted. We looked out the window. We idled. Over Brunch. Brunch!
And it was good.
Afterwards, we needed to move. So we joined the Preeners and Trophy-Dog Walkers et al on the promenade. Stumbling along in a Brunch-induced fog, we vowed to never again do Brunch. Istanbul being the exception.
Rumeli Kale Cafe and Restaurant just past Rumeli Hisar (coming from Istanbul). There are two Rumeli Kale Cafes -- aim for the three-story structure further along the road (away from Istanbul), across from Iskele Restaurant. While the cafe serves breakfast till late in the day during the week, aim for a Saturday or Sunday (or holiday), when the kitchen is geared up. And arrive by 10 if you want to be sure of a table upstairs, earlier if you hope to sit by the window on the second or third floor. Be forewarned: the flow of traffic back into town will be glacial.
[Note: We revisited Rumeli Kale Cafe last Monday morning. We're now in Anatolia, in the little-touristed city of Kayseri. Dave recently posted some moody black-and-white shots from the last few days, here.]