Tuesday, July 23, 2024

A cilbir for brunch at Istanbul’lu in Somerville’s Teele Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

In the midst of the Somerville outpost of Teele Square – a surprising hub of diverse eateries with fine vegan, Mexican, Indian, pub fare, subs, ’za and more – Istanbul’lu offers Turkish cuisine in an intimate and cozy setting. It’s quietly been serving its flavorful offerings for just over 13 years. 

Decorated with Persian rugs, throw pillows and art, Istanbul’lu feel like you’ve been transported to another world as you walk through the door; it helped that the soundtrack to my meal was Pink Floyd. The menu is vast and tantalizing. There’s a whole section for böreks (phyllo dough pastries stuffed with cheese, spinach and other savories); desserts feature something called kunefe (a mini pie pastry filled with unsalted Turkish cheese and drizzled with syrup) that’s on my radar to try. The appetizer and dinner offerings speak to diverse culinary yens: There’s a cold cucumber and yogurt soup (cacik), a marinated white bean salad (piyaz) and bigger plates that include pilav ustus (specially stewed rice topped with chicken and meat variations), kebabs and the kuru fasulye (a stewed crock of white beans in a red sauce with rice and yogurt on the side).

Istanbul’lu is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday opens at 11 a.m. for brunch – not officially, but it does have a “Turkish Eggs” section on the menu that says “brunch” to me. One offering is Yoldas Breakfast (an “on the run” meal) that is a mix of finger foods including a selection of böreks and simit (soft, doughy bread). For the eggs you can get the menemen, an omelet filled with tomatoes, peppers and beyaz peynir (Turkish cheese) with the option to add sucuk, a sausage.

The bread at Istanbul’lu. (Photo: Tom Meek)

I had the cilbir, an old traditional dish of dropped (poached) eggs topped with a creamy garlic yogurt, hot butter and pul biber (or Aleppo pepper) with the option to add spinach and onions. The dish is a unique combination of temperatures and textures, including soft-cooked (not runny) eggs that are warm but crowned with cool yogurt. The dish comes with a Turkish bread basket and a delightfully rich red pepper mezze, and I found it most pleasing to use the bread to sop up the eggs, yogurt and hot butter. The accompanying Turkish coffee was hearty and satisfying and went down too fast. 

Istanbul’lu offers a limited selection of European and  Midwestern lagers.  

Istanbul’lu (237 Holland St., Teele Square, Somerville)


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR 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.