Since November 30, 2013 was Shop Small Saturday, I being a foodie took that as a cue to not only visit my favorite local shops but also to support the local eateries around town. For breakfast Kat and I stopped off at our favorite bagel shop, Modern Bagel, located at 23-59 Fair Lawn Avenue in Fair Lawn. I know, I just inadvertently started Bagel Wars on the internets by claiming that Modern Bagel was our favorite, but that is not what this article is about so please refrain from threatening my first born son, lovely wife, and/or cute dog, because you feel that there are other bagel shops in the area that are better. I respect your opinion, even though it is wrong, Sick Burn, so you should follow what theChive.com says, Keep Calm and Carry On.
Once our bellies were full, Kat and I decided to venture down the road a bit and visit our favorite and damn near the last true comic book store in the world, The Joker’s Child, located at 12-23 River Road in Fair Lawn. If you have any Big Bang Theory types on your Christmas list this is the only place to go to fill their stockings chock full of nerdy goodness!
While Kat and I were browsing everything from Archie to Zombies, we were discussing our dinner. I know what you are thinking blog reader man, “dude you just ate breakfast, and you are already thinking about dinner!” To that I say, don’t judge us, Kat and I like food, like the Grinch loves misery, like Frosty hates global warming, and like Justin Beiber (There should be a link here for the Beebs, but I refuse to perpetuate his fame and therefore, no Wiki link for him!) likes selfies, so thinking about dinner before lunch makes perfect sense, Jerk!
Kat and I are very serious about dining out. You see, there are many pros to being The Blue Collar Foodie, but there are some Cons. One such Con is that we don’t get to frequent the same place very often because I am always on the hunt for a new and exciting place to write about, so a lot of thought normally goes into to where we should dine. However, this decision was somewhat simple, thanks to one of my Facebook friends Carolina P., who informed me about a new Fair Lawn eatery that moved into the Picnic’s old digs. So, before leaving The Joker’s Child, with a handful of gifts for our friends, Kat and I decided that The Istanbul Café & Grill, located at 1425 Plaza Road North in Fair Lawn, NJ, is where our Small Business Saturday Smorgasbord would be. I dare you to try to say the name of this Restaurant without singing this song in your head. Go.
With that decided, Kat and I could enjoy the rest of our Saturday pontificating, dreaming, and salivating, patiently waiting for dinner time to arrive. Since we seem to never have a spare moment in our lives, the day went by relatively fast and soon enough we were pulling up to The Istanbul Café & Grill packing a camera and our normal hearty appetites ready to devour some delicious Turkish food.
Upon entering The Istanbul Café & Grill, we were immediately greeted by not only a friendly member of the wait staff, but also the fantastic aroma that can only be attained by the low and slow cooking of fresh quality ingredients. Since Istanbul Café & Grill is a BYOB establishment, we brought a bottle of middle of the road white wine to accompany our meal, and our helpful waitress showed us to our table before whisking the bottle away to be opened post haste. Once seated we realized that this restaurant was perfect for not only couples but could easily accommodate the two large families that were in attendance. Although, I do suggest a reservation for larger parties, as the dining room was mostly full when we arrived.
Our waitress soon returned with our now uncorked bottle of wine and our reading material for the evening, the menus. To be honest, as much as I love a good book now and again, I will honestly take the menu from a respectable restaurant over a Dostoyevsky any day of the week. We filled our glasses with wine, toasted to a rare date night, and perused the menu with the logical profoundness of Mr. Spock. As we carefully weighed our options, as to not make the wrong decision and be destined to have plate envy for the entire evening, we decided that there simply were too many options to choose just one and sharing was in order.
Once we made the decision to go all Karl Marx on our dinner, the decision was much easier, considering we were guaranteed to have at least half of each other’s food, thus negating plate envy altogether. Now we only had to worry about eater’s remorse. We soon decided on the Eggplant Salad for an appetizer, combined with the Mixed Grill and Stuffed Cabbage as out main courses.
With our order complete, we were then able to sit back, relax, and sip our wine as we absorbed the ambience of The Istanbul Café & Grill. The first thing I noticed is that Istanbul Café & Grill is bucking the trend that seems to be in many new foodie approved eateries across the land, and that is a dark and dimly lit dining area with dub step blaring over hipster speakers. The Istanbul Café & Grill was well lit with soft light and had quiet, modern, culturally influenced music as the soundtrack for our meal. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of The Istanbul Café & Grill which allowed me to both see my lovely wife and enjoy a conversation with her without using more hand gestures than a sign language interpreter would use during an old school Micro Machine Commercial.
While Kat and I were relishing in our peaceful conversation, which was most likely about either food or Grumpy Cat our waitress delivered a basket of warm fresh bread paired with a bowl of olive oil complete with a few olives and house seasoning. Warm bread makes me happier than an Elf eating candy wrapped Schnapps cake on December 26, 2013, so I immediately grabbed a hunk of this deliciousness and dipped it into the olive oil. I savored each bite of this toasty, doughy, and somewhat crispy slice of awesome and only halted my delight when our appetizer arrived.
The color of our dish was so vibrant it looked like an Andy Warhol painting that should be on the wall rather than in a bowl. After the requisite photo session, Kat and I attacked this aromatic dish with the tenacity of a honey badger. Being a purist, I ignored my instinct to grab another hunk of the warm bread and dip it into this eggplant laden concoction, and instead guided a forkful towards my awaiting taste buds. The flavor of this dish was elegant and delicate, yet so complex that it lingered long after I had swallowed it. Nothing about it was overbearing which allowed all of the tastes to marry together flawlessly. After tasting it by itself, I was unable to resist the urge to create a bread and eggplant conglomerate, and so I did. The warm bread danced with the cold eggplant salad and created a wonderful juxtaposition that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Shortly after Kat and I finished our appetizer our main courses arrived at the table. The first thing I noticed upon its delivery was that the portion sizes at The Istanbul Café & Grill seemed to be very generous. The Mixed Grill, described as a combination of Chicken Shish, Adana Kebab, and Chicken Adana was paired with a substantial amount of rice pilaf and a garnish that we found to be perfect for cleansing our palates in between the different types of meat. Each of these appetizing morsels of meaty goodness were fork tender and teeming with flavor. As we were consuming each style it seemed as if the one we had just eaten was our favorite; that is until we tried the next one. I would highly recommend this dish to the Istanbul Café & Grill virgin, as it gives you the opportunity to try a few varieties of the awesomeness that is being grilled in the kitchen.
After trying a few pieces of the delectable meat that formed the Mixed Grill, we moved on to the Stuffed Cabbage that was described as cabbage leaves stuffed with ground lamb and rice served with yogurt. To be honest, I am usually not a huge fan of Stuffed Cabbage, but Kat loves the stuff. I really wanted to try the yogurt sauce, so I acquiesced to the ordering of this dish. I should remember moments like these when I question listening to my wife because she was absolutely spot on about this entrée. Not only was this easily the best Stuffed Cabbage Rolls I have ever tasted, but the yogurt sauce was damn near perfect. This simple, smooth, and creamy sauce not only was an impeccable companion to the Stuffed Cabbage dish, but it also went quite well with all the meat from the Mixed Grill.
Not only was everything that we ate at the Istanbul Café & Grill tasty and wonderfully prepared but the bill was just right too. Don’t get it twisted, this establishment is not cheap, but you most definitely get your money’s worth. It is apparent that this eatery serves high quality, fresh food that is cooked with love, on site, by an expert. If you are in the Fair Lawn area, and you are in the mood for a meal with Turkish Flair, I highly suggest you make your way down to the Istanbul Café & Grill and try a few of their subtle yet flavorful dishes.