“These people knew authentic Turkish cuisine, especially the Gyro Adana kebab,” Handan Utguran says of Hampton Roads locals previously stationed in Turkey.
Handan’s husband and co-owner of Mediterranean Kebab & Pizza House, Mustafa, grew up in Turkey, working in restaurants with his father. He always dreamed of opening his own restaurant. Since immigrating to the U.S. 26 years ago, he has worked as a chef in New Jersey, Manhattan and Philadelphia.
Eight years ago, Mustafa met and married Handan (who immigrated to America in 1974) while they worked together at a Philadelphia restaurant. Today the couple has two grown sons, Atakan and Umur.
Philadelphia was getting too crowded and cold, so the Utgurans headed south and accepted an offer to sell from a Newport News-based restaurant owner in 2015.
The Utgurans’ first good fortune was the presence of local military servicepersons who had been stationed in Adana, Turkey, at Incirlik Air Base. “About 90 percent of these people who knew authentic Turkish cuisine said ours was better than what they had in Adana,” Handan says.
“My father was stationed in Turkey,” says customer Mary Overby, who has tried everything in the restaurant with her family. “We had lentil soup and Greek salad, which is very good, especially if you add doner meat.”
Doner is seasoned meat stacked and turned slowly next to a vertical cooking element, then thinly shaved to serve as it cooks. It is similar to Middle Eastern shawarma.
“We try to keep our spices to a minimum so you taste the meat, not the spice first,” chef Baran Kutun says. “We make spicy meat kebabs.”
“My favorite dish is the Mixed Grill, where we get to sample four to five different meats. And we always get the homemade hummus and fresh bread,” customer Bill Dittmar says. “My wife and I enjoy bringing friends to share authentic Turkish food. We love when the owners come over and share their country’s culture.”
Mediterranean Kebab & Pizza House serves a Turkish grape leaf appetizer combo featuring hummus, babaganus, carrot dip and eggplant, spicy veggie dip and haydari, a mixture of Greek yogurt, kefir cheese, dill, and mint and dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts and currants.
Everything on the menu is homemade. That’s why Mustafa spends most of his time in the kitchen. “People come in the first time, try the food and come back. We are the only 100 percent Mediterranean and Turkish kebab house in an 80-mile radius,” Handan says of their other good fortune.
The specialties are many varieties of kebab and doner, and the lamb chops are the best seller. The restaurant serves fish, including branzino, red snapper and salmon, grilled or fried. The chefs strongly advise guests to try it grilled.
This year, Mediterranean Kebab House added Italian pizza to its menu. “Families would come in and children didn’t want to eat kebabs,” Handan explains. “They asked for pizza.”
In addition to Italian pizzas, the popular lahmacun is on the menu. Lahmacun is a Turkish pizza featuring ground lamb with parsley, onions, green and red peppers. “It’s a tossup between the doner and the lamacun pizza,” Overby says of her favorite Turkish dishes. “Talk about a healthy pizza. And the service is excellent.”
The restaurant serves a hot breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays and plans to add a breakfast buffet.
Fatma Solimon, the restaurant’s popular head server, suggests the hot, black Turkish tea.
“We have a small but dedicated staff who work hard to see that our guests receive great food and excellent service,” says Atakan Utguran, manager.
Mediterranean Kebab House Turkish cuisine can be catered for parties and meetings. “We can do gyros on site by getting them ready here, then take our machine to the site so people can watch how they are cut and prepared,” Kutun explains. “Currently, we are working on lunchboxes to cater to large local medical companies.”
“That is what he likes to do and he works hard,” Handan says of Mustafa, who hasn’t taken a day off in eight years.
“When we get home about 11:00 each night, we watch Turkish news and political programs. I would like to read two Turkish books really badly, but I have to go to Turkey to buy them,” Handan jokes about why she needed to visit her large family this past August.
As hard as they work, the Utgurans are happy here.
TO THE POINT:
Mediterranean Kebab & Pizza House
Address: 980 J Clyde Morris Blvd., Ste. 122, Newport News, VA 23601
Contacts: Mustafa and Handan Utguran, owners; Atakan Utguran, manager