Saturday, April 20, 2024

The kibbeh plate at Lavash Bar & Grille near Fresh Pond. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Mediterranean flavors are once again wafting in an offbeat location midway down New Street, that quick shot from the infamous Fresh Pond Rotary to Danehy Park and Apple Cinemas. In the storefront that had been Casbah (run by Sari Abul-Jubein, who for decades oversaw Casablanca in Harvard Square), where you could toke on a hookah while a DJ spun Middle Eastern disco, the family-run Turkish eatery Lavash Bar & Grille is in a soft opening. The menu so far is a series of cold and hot mezes and an array of mains. On the bigs side, there’s classic shish kebabs and a pork chop, as well as an islak burger and iskender. The islak, also known as the Istanbul wet burger, is a meat patty on a soft white bun with a garlicky tomato sauce – don’t call it a sloppy joe – and iskender is döner kebab meat (thinly sliced lamb or a lamb-and-beef blend, much like in a gyro) atop pita wedges, doused with a hot tomato sauce and topped with a yogurt-based sauce.

On the mezes, I was given a side of hummus as part of the soft opening tease and found it thick and meaty, with bits of seeds and nuts in it, satiating and worthy of comparison to the sublime, creamy offerings at the Mediterranean Grill and Cafe Barada. Other cold mezes included baba ghanoush and a haydari of yogurt and cucumber, but I was more interested in the warm mezes – namely the kibbeh, bulgur wheat balls stuffed with ground and spiced meat and served with red and white dipping sauces. They come up so perfect and neat it feels like a crime to bite into one, but when you do it’s a warm comfort. The manti, a stuffed Turkish dumpling in a red and white sauce like iskender, has my eye for the next visit. The thing that really stuck with me was the sigara borek, which I’d like to call Turkish mozzarella sticks but are really more like Mexican flautas: crispy phyllo dough (yufka) wrapped around halloumi cheese to make little cigarette sticks of yummy snack fun. They come with a yogurt dipping sauce, which was good; some of that tomato sauce used with the islak burger and iskender could be even better.

Lavash is a homey, inviting spot with Turkish trimmings and decor. As of now Lavash does not serve alcohol, but there’s a tight yet friendly nook of a bar for when it does. There are TVs too, ostensibly for sports watching, but if you’re at the bar, they’re overhead; you’d have to have a very flexible neck to see Celtic magic. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. When I stopped in from the nearby bike path late one afternoon, there were many other bikes there – families in for a bite. The place was surprisingly full, and servers were doing their best to make sure all were happy. Of course, free hummus helps.

Lavash Bar & Grille (26 New St., Neighborhood 9 near Fresh Pond)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.