From the archives (11.09.08)
A good buddy of mine joined me for lunch at Café Agora this past Friday; the experience was yet another in a long line of tasty meals at this Mediterranean eatery. With the demise of Shipfeifer, Agora is now the only spot in the ATL I go for a quality gyro and tasty Turkish food. While there are a handful of options in the burbs (that’s you Alpharetta), this is the best place in town and well worth the drive from Midtown. Overall, I rate the food here very highly, but there are two or three problems with the experience that prevent the perfect score.
My experience on Friday was pretty much par for the course. I walked in around 12:30 and there were three tables with patrons. Al, the owner, must have been outside because I didn’t notice him when I walked in. They only have about 10 tables in the entire restaurant, yet they never do a good job keeping the place clean. They use paper products – which should make it easy for them to clean up. They fail pretty badly in this department. Friday’s meal: Four of those tables had trash on them and the rest were all covered in various sauces and sticky substances left by messy patrons. They only clean up sporadically and when they do – watch out because they plaster the glass top tables with Windex. If you’re nearby, cover up because you’ll almost certainly get caught in the line of fire. I found a spot near the front and parked myself in anticipation – Chris R was running late.
Sure enough, Al was outside; he walked in a moment or two after I sat down. He was very attentive and made sure I was not ignored – I told him I was waiting and he smiled, gave me the usual “Thank you my friend” and continued on his way. What a jolly guy. After a few minutes of waiting, I decided to order an app. There is no wait staff, so you have to order from the line. I asked for the hummus and Al went to work. He delivered a gorgeous spread of Hummus, Tabouli, and Turkish meze (i.e., a group of Turkish side dishes). I was really excited that he served Havuc Salatasi (shredded carrots with garlic, some yogurt, dill, and a few other spices). I had sampled it there, and I was quite pleased with the composition and flavor. The platter comes with diced pita. This has always bugged me as it makes it hard to scoop the hummus. I always end up having to ask for more pita. As I have never traveled to Turkey, I am not sure if this is their traditional method of serving pita – but it bothers me nonetheless.
Moments after I returned to the table, CR walked in (followed by about 10 others). It was obvious they had been to Agora before as they all made a beeline for the cash register and not for the tables. Al yelled to the cooks to clean up the tables while he held down the fort. Meanwhile, we chowed on some of the delicious hummus and were then squeezed ourselves in line before a more patrons showed up. Whenever Café Agora gets busy (often), you see Al sweat a little. He never writes things down and you don’t pay until you are done – so he seems to get a little lost. What follows is an odd dance that Al is quite adept at. As they come in, he will repeat orders to the chefs in the back (90% of which are for Gyros), then as they come up – he’ll call and point to the person he thinks ordered the dish. The kitchen (almost) always seems to get the orders right, but it usually takes Al a couple of tries before he matches each order with the proper customer. Think of this as an abstract match game. I’m quite amazed actually – if I had to deal with all the “no onions, add tzatziki, etc… etc,” my customers would be lucky to get something from the correct culinary family, let alone the right order.
CR ordered the adana kebab and I, failing to be sensible (as in – go for something light), chose the gyro. I got over my indecisiveness 2 seconds later when I remember what a treat I was in for. CRs Adana kebab was perfect. I had never sampled the adana, but like the kuzu, iskender, or kofte kebab – it was spot on. The meat was cooked and seasoned perfectly, and there was plenty of pita, rice, and bulgur. My gyro was exceptional. As always – the lamb and beef were well marinated, juicy, cooked exactly right. The cooks do a good job of adding just the right amount of tzatziki sauce. Consistent and excellent are two great ways to describe the food here. To top it off, Al made rounds and dropped off a piece of cevizli for each of the patrons. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s not unusual either.
I’ve never had a bad meal here and in fact, I’ve never had a bad dish here. Whether you are a meatatarian or a vegetarian, a lamb fan or a chicken lover, you cannot go wrong. Despite the cleanliness issues and the organized confusion when Agora gets busy, your meal will almost definitely be wonderfully delicious.