It's been 24 hours since I left Bereket, a tiny hole in the wall Turkish restaurant located behind a Citgo station on Bridgeport's Main Street. As I write this I wonder, is it too soon to go back?
Bereket has been dubbed by people in the know as Fairfield County's best kept secret, and I finally understand what all the fuss is about. Mind you, this place is not fussy. Hidden beside of the gas station's mini mart, Bereket's small dining space has only 3 tables and boxes of Turkish beverages and pantry staples lining the walls. But what this single room Turkish delight lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in the quality, freshness, and flavor of the food.
Owner Selahattin Cinar has been in business for 6 years, and chats with customers while holding court in the kitchen preparing a steady stream of take-out orders. He greeted us warmly as we walked in, and we were relieved to find that he spoke enough English to answer questions and help us navigate their extensive menu. When we asked what was good, we were led to a display case filled with cold mezes (appetizers) and kebabs awaiting the heat, and simply told, it's all good. And it was.
It is said that the ancient Ottoman courts passed laws to regulate the freshness of food in Turkey and this cultural tradition explains the pristine quality of the ingredients found at Bereket. For those not familiar with Turkish fare, it most closely resembles Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisine. It is simply prepared, not cluttered with rich sauces, and you get the sense that dining on Turkish food is to dine on recipes that are centuries old.
In keeping with tradition, we started with the Soguk Meze (cold appetizers) and opted for the Mixed Platter. If you are like me and want to try a little bit of everything, I recommend this ordering strategy. This substantial plate allowed us to sample five different salads/dips and was accompanied by a large basket of crusty warm pita.
Standing out from the crowd were the two salads boasting eggplant as the primary ingredient. Bereket's creamy smokey BABAGANOS had great flavor and texture, while the EGGPLANT SALAD featured roasted eggplant with a larger chop blended with red and green peppers, subtle garlic, lemon, and parsley. Both were light and satisfying. The requisite HUMUS was a rich velvety chickpea paste with just the right amount of tahini and subtle garlic. Also in the mix was CACIK, a cold yogurt with diced cucumbers, garlic and herbs and a mysterious dish (not found on the menu) made with potato, eggs, and yogurt, sort of a Turkish potato salad.The CACIK was mild and tasty with the meat dishes that arrived later in the meal, and never having been a fan of the potato salad I let my other dining partners finish off this one.
A classic Turkish salad of white beans, parsley, tomatoes, onions and egg arrived next. The ingredients in this simply prepared PIYAZ were dressed with a light vinaigrette and were pristinely fresh. If you weren't watching commuters pumping gas outside, you'd swear you were on the Aegean Coast.
Eggplant is a key player in Turkish cuisine, and our final cold Meze was the IMAM BAYILDI. Served at room temperature, this half roasted eggplant was a mere $5.99 and was stuffed with simmered onions, tomatoes, currants, pine nuts, and peppers, One could easily make a meal of this alone, and it's worth noting that if you are a vegetarian, Bereket is a perfect spot to savor varied and uniquely wonderful fare.
We had eaten our weight in vegetables at this point and as if the cook had read our minds, we were rewarded with the rich savory SIGARA BOREK. There were oohs and aahs as the dish was lowered to the table as it resembled dessert, and indeed this feta and parsley filled Filo dough was truly a treat. When I mentioned earlier that I was ready to go back, it is this dish I crave. Rolls of crispy fried filo contained tangy feta just warm enough to be soft but not oozy, and was accompanied by a yogurt dill dipping sauce. Actually, this was better than dessert. Traditionally it was said that no girl should marry until she had mastered the art of börek making. I wish somebody had put this on my to-do list.
It was time to bring on the meat and naturally we wanted to experience the full array of lamb, beef, and chicken KEBAB, a descriptor that refers not to skewered meat as some assume but roast meat of all varieties, All KEBABS can be ordered as a wrap or a plate, with the plates including a generous blanket of delicious pilav and a side salad.
After spying the fiery spit in the kitchen we knew the DONER-SHAWURMA-GYRO was a mandatory order. The sliced marinated lamb (the Gyro selection changes daily) is shaved off producing thin layers of perfectly seasoned tangy meat. This is Turkey's version of fast food, and it sure beats Micky D's.
Curious to compare lamb dishes, we moved on to the MEATBALL KOFTE, flavorful browned patties of ground lamb with a tender moist interior. They were delicious as was the TAVUK KOFTE, grilled chicken meatballs, especially when paired with the rice pilav nestled under the meat. While the MEAT SHISH KEBAB (grilled marinated cubes of beef) was a little dry and not as flavorful as previous samples, the CHICKEN SHISH KEBAB was juicy with nice grill marks and the same great flavor as the TAVUK KOFTE patty.
And then came a very traditional entree that was utterly unfamiliar to me despite my vigilant eating escapades. This was the MANTI, tiny folded triangles of dough filled with ground meat and onion, floating atop a bed of yoghurt and garlic, spiced with red pepper powder and melted butter. The butter seemed to be seasoned with the drippings from the cooked meat, and no words can describe the sensation of eating this decadent dish. The subtle heat from the red pepper, the coolness of the yogurt, and the rich meat packages were a gift indeed.
To finish off our Turkish feast, we enjoyed Bereket's flaky BAKLAVA infused with honey and filled with pistachios and walnuts. The HONEY CAKE arrived in the form of sweet densely moist cookies with a rich honey flavor that melted in your mouth. To finish off the meal we ordered Turkish Coffee, and watched the stovetop preparation of the thick dark beverage with hints of what I can only describe as New Orleans style chicory. Our server asked if we wanted "a little sugar, a lot of sugar, or medium sugar," and medium delivered a slightly sweet but nor cloying drinking experience. It was the perfect ending to an utterly excellent meal. One friend mentioned that Bereket was just like dining in Istanbul, possibly better. It is truly a Fairfield County find. Don't miss out.
Note: There is no seafood at Bereket and everything served at Bereket is Halal. Bereket is open year round for lunch and dinner, but we recommend that you call before heading over. In warmer months, there is a small outdoor patio for which you can call ahead to reserve a table. Additionally, they are happy to cater a party of any size for you. As the dining space is very small, this would be a great way to enjoy the full range of their authentic and excellent cuisine.
Appetizers range from $1.99 for soup to $6.49 for FALAFEL. Entrees will run you about $10.00, and the portions are enormous!! You will be eating leftovers all week. They accept all major credit cards.
NOTE: Bereket has moved since this review. The new location is:
Bereket 2871 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport 203.333.9393