Hempstead Turnpike is Nassau County’s main drag, as it slices through the island’s midsection from the Queens line to Suffolk, with a multitude of storefronts lining it from end to end. Populating these storefronts are great eateries—some more hidden than others.
This first of three installments of “Hempstead Turnpike Hidden Gems” delivers Turkuaz Mediterranean Gourmet (493 Hempstead Tpke.), a small Turkish grocery with a kitchen that churns out some of the best halal meats, falafel, babaganush (as Turkuaz spells the dish on its menu) and savory pies this side of Ankara. The friendly staff warmly welcomes customers at the counter, relaying take-out and eat-in orders to the kitchen staff while offering guests a seat in the quaint dining section.
The staff helps with the menu, pointing out their favorites from the hot/cold appetizers and entrées. To start, order the babaganush, a puree of eggplant flavored with tahini, olive oil and garlic that’s served with light and fluffy Turkish bread. Smoky with eggplant earthiness, the babaganush is sharable, yet one hungry eater could polish off a serving, bread and all.
Turkuaz also offers stuffed grape leaves, hummus and a mixed appetizer with hummus, eggplant salad, babaganush, labneh (thick homemade yogurt with walnuts, garlic and dill) and slices of eggplant in a moderately spicy sauce of fresh tomatoes, green peppers, onions and garlic.
Entrées include all the classics—lamb chops, doner (lamb gyro), adana (ground lamb or chicken gently spiced and grilled on skewers), kebabs, falafel and more. The mixed grill option loads the chef’s favorites onto one plate, with chicken kebabs, lamb adana and lamp chops, along with special items added on at the behest of the chef including chicken chops, which are impossibly succulent, marinated chicken thighs, perfectly seasoned and grilled. All entrées are served with rice, salad and complimentary bread. Most of the entrée items also appear in pita sandwiches, with the lightly fried falafel standing out thanks to its crisp and bright flavors.
Turkuaz’s brick oven is what sets it apart from most similar eateries, as the oven so crucial to true Turkish delight cooks an array of savory pies including lahmacun, a thin, ancient meat pie with ground lamb topped with parsley, fresh tomatoes, red peppers and onion; cheese pie, a thick dough stuffed with fresh Turkish kashari cheese; and sucuklu pie, which adds Turkish sausage to the cheese pie. The warm, supple dough of these pies is a genuine eater’s pleasure and could just as easily be enjoyed plain—the addition of exquisite toppings is a bonus.
Dessert is also on the menu—go beyond baklava and order kazan dibi, a Turkish custard pudding with a dark, brûlée-esque caramelized crust.
Turkuaz Mediterranean Gourmet is located at 493 Hempstead Tpke., West Hempstead; 516-280-2973; www.turkuazmediterraneangourmet.com.