El Turco Review: Falling for Delicious, Authentic Turkish Cuisine in East Hampton

Assortment of mezes and warm starters at El Turco
Assortment of mezes and warm starters at El Turco
Angela LaGreca

If you’ve spent significant time in the Hamptons, you know there are limited options when it comes to ethnic food. Tired of lobster rolls, fish tacos and roasted chicken? Craving a delicious Mediterranean dining experience where you aren’t rushed or ignored but welcomed like family and long lost royalty? That’s where El Turco in East Hampton comes in.

Open only since July and situated just north of North Main Street (not far north from Nick & Toni’s) at the early part of Three Mile Harbor Road, El Turco is creating a buzz on the East End restaurant scene for its welcoming ambiance, impeccable service and savory, authentic Turkish cuisine.

The restaurant offers a tasting experience and culinary journey featuring high-quality meats, fine imported spices and local, seasonal ingredients with authentic dishes based on classic Turkish recipes, many which originate from the Aegean and Anatolian part of Turkey.

The food at El Turco is not only delicious and beautifully presented, it is uber fresh, imported weekly from regional, authentic Turkish markets as well as the Mediterranean. We often see branzino on menus, but the grilled whole branzino at El Turco, imported from Turkey, was one of the most succulent, plump and satisfying branzino dishes we’ve ever tasted.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Leading the way up to mains like the branzino, the grilled lamb chops and the traditional Turkish mixed kebab (vali kebab aka the mayor’s choice) is an array of mezes (smaller dishes/appetizers) that are a meal in and of themselves: a creamy roasted beet hummus with lemon, coriander garlic and cumin is as tasty as it is photogenic; the vegan red lentil balls seasoned with spices and served with lettuce leaves were gobbled up quickly; the Circassian chicken salad, a combo of organic shredded chicken mixed with walnuts, garlic and red pepper sauce, was a savory surprise.

The baba ganoush with its citrus kick accenting the smoky eggplant dip with tahini was a memorable favorite, as was the fried eggplant, green peppers and tomato dish/casserole known as kopoglu.

With the selection of starters, it was hard to save room for that branzino on the horizon. As my guest and I happily mopped up the meze bowls of humus, cacik (garlicky yogurt) and fasulye (fresh green beans in olive oil) with a stack of warm, homemade pita bread. The shrimp casserole offered another treat with its herbs, butter and yes, more garlic (!) — the dish was super savory but not overpowering.

Somehow we managed to fit in dessert. I don’t normally care for rice pudding but the sutlac (oven-baked rice pudding with crushed walnuts) was crushingly good. And who could leave without sampling the baklava with its layers of flaky, buttery phyllo sheets and sweet nuts and syrup. Divine!

There’s plenty more on the menu: seasonal salads boasting fresh feta, beefsteak tomatoes, arugula and Persian cucumbers. The grilled octopus looks like a must-try for next time. Even the Turkish tea in a curvy glass was satisfying. Oh, and if you are in the mood for a specialty cocktail or just appreciate sexy lighting, the sleek bar is another option for a pleasant date night, business chat or a solo hang with a welcoming bartender. The evening was a delectable embarrassment of flavors and spices served with such warmth by our servers that we kept wondering, what is the occasion?

The original El Turco, in Miami, earned a Michelin star rating after being open only 15 months.

That bodes well for El Turco East Hampton, which was spawned by a casual meeting between one of El Turco’s founders and Frank Cilione, the longtime operator of the dual restaurant and nightlife venue at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton. (The location has changed businesses many times over the years: The Spur, Philippe, Lily Pond, The Leo, 324, Kobe Beach, Harbor East, Mars Lounge, Finale.)

Soon thereafter, Cilione hired the original El Turco founders Nurdan Gur Yuzbasioglu and Gokhan Yuzbasioglu along with developer and visionary Cagri (pronounced CHAR-ee) Kanver to assist in realizing their collective vision.

Cagri Kanver, developer and visionary, at El Turco
Cagri Kanver, developer and visionary, at El Turco

Talking El Turco with Cagri Kanver

“We wanted to bring the soul of our region, the Turkish Mediterranean region, into this place and to make sure that whoever comes there not only enjoys the excellent food and drinks but also enjoys the ambiance inside,” says Kanver, a Turkish entrepreneur with a background in architecture and an MBA. “The major experience is dinner — a nice dinner experience with cultural, authentic, flavorful foods — it is very important,” emphasizes Kanver, who brought employees from the Miami location and housed them at his home in Southampton “to make sure they are serving the food and explaining the food properly.”

When Kanver met with Cilione in May 2022, the real estate maven had ambitious plans for the space.

“I mentioned to Frank Cilione that I wanted to open this (El Turco) on July 4th weekend and he said, ‘In 2023?’” says Kanver, with a laugh. “I said, ‘No, no, 2022!’ And we ended up doing all these internal modifications and brand creation within 10 days, A through Z.”

The restaurant opened at the end of July and has been serving dinner and specialty cocktails, with DJ Kevin spinning music to the crowd that chooses to stay past 10 p.m. on weekends.

With Executive Chef Guney, it recently received the OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award for 2022 (as did El Turco Miami). On October 8, El Turco will host a private reception celebrating the U.S. premiere of Freedom On Fire — Ukrainains Fight for Freedom at the Hamptons International Film Festival with Academy Award-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky

Can El Turco East Hampton make a long-term go of it at a location that has seen significant turnover?

“My goal is to have a strong seasonal approach, including summer and fall and maybe close the services during winter and spring,” says Kanver. El Turco is currently open through October offering dining in, take-out and full catering services. The Miami restaurant is open year-round.

“We didn’t want to give another impression to the town that we are here only for one year … we want to stay here — we are here to stay, regardless of only for summer and fall,” says Kanver. “I think it’s a phenomenal location that every big restaurant name would want to be there.”

In the end, says Kanver, the future of El Turco comes down to one thing:

“Turkish food is really elegant and sophisticated and when authentic people come here they say, ‘Wow’ … I think what I’ve learned from this journey so far is regardless if you have the best ambiance, the best location, the best staff, if your food is not good, you’re out. We are proud to bring good, authentic food to the community.”

El Turco East Hampton is located at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton. It can be reached at 631-502-9597 or elturcoturkishfood.com Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5–10 p.m. for dinner.

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