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TODAY

Tuesday, February 19

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If you'd never heard of Cafe Demir, you'd have no real reason to stop in. This tiny restaurant sits on a stretch of Lincoln Avenue (between Diversey and Belmont) inundated with dozens of eateries, and the inconspicuous exterior -- a dim storefront outlined by blue Christmas lights -- isn't much to look at. I had driven by this place plenty of times without even noticing it. It wasn't until I heard rumors of its fantastic Turkish food that I even considered giving Cafe Demir a try.

Upon entering Cafe Demir, one will immediately notice that the interior isn't much to look at, either: The cramped room sports minimal decor and several tables covered with white paper. However, the super-friendly staff, chatty customers and rich smells wafting from the kitchen add an element of coziness to the place.

The menu is extensive, offering a good variety of lamb, beef and chicken dishes as well as quite a few tempting vegetarian dishes. Those who crave more standard Turkish offerings would do well to order the hummus or dolma to start. However, more adventurous eaters will be pleased to find more creative appetizers, including ezme (spicy chopped red bell pepper with tomato, onion and walnuts) and an eggplant salad made with fresh veggies, parsley, olive oil and lemon.

We started with the sigara borek appetizer -- deep-fried rolls of phylo dough filled with feta cheese, spinach, onion and garlic. The filling itself was potent -- the feta cheese was stronger than what I'm used to. Luckily, the rolls were thin and delicate, and the chef balanced this overpowering feta taste with accompanying fresh lettuce and tomatoes, making this dish an impressive start to the meal.

Deciding on entrees proved to be quite an ordeal given the restaurant's wide selection. My friend chose the iskender entree -- chunks of gyros meat covered in a tomato sauce and served with a thin yogurt dipping sauce. This dish was terrific even though we were unable to identify the meat (we assumed it to be lamb but weren't entirely sure). The meat was crispy on the edges, tender on the inside and well-flavored; the cool, mild yogurt was a perfect compliment to the spicy red sauce.

While I thought my friend's dish was tasty, I enjoyed my dish, the karni yarik mantarli, even more. This vegetarian dish consisted of eggplant, sliced button mushrooms, onions and green peppers all stewed in a delicious, garlicky olive oil and tomato sauce, served with a plate of rice. This is definitely the kind of dish you crave on a cold day: Loads of fresh veggies, a hearty tomato sauce, and fragrant spices are a sure cure for winter doldrums any day of the week.

For dessert, Cafe Demir tempts with rice pudding and kazandibi (caramelized milk pudding), but we opted to split the baklava, as this Middle Eastern sweet treat is one of my favorites. Cafe Demir's version did not disappoint -- three generous pieces of almost cake-like pastry oozing with honey and melted butter and sugar. We finished this savory dish so quickly that our surprised server asked us if we wanted to order another helping.

Besides finding the food at Cafe Demir to be excellent, I think one of the best things about this place is the value. The entrees are priced in the range of $9.95 to $12.95, and most of the appetizers can be had for around $5. These prices seem even more reasonable when you consider the high quality and complexity of the food and the gigantic portions. (Both my friend and I had a good-sized doggie bag to enjoy the next day.) And, when the congenial owner came by (twice) to introduce himself and make sure that we were having a great time, I felt my money was going to a good place.

You would never judge a book by its cover, so why judge Cafe Demir by its exterior? And, now that you have a positive recommendation ,you have no excuse not to stop in for dinner.

Cafe Demir is located at 2964 N. Lincoln. It is BYOB. Closed on Mondays.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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