Anatolia Grill - a Jacksonville gem - CLOSED

What does a go-to restaurant look like? One that you keep coming back because it's just so good. It has to start with great food. Food that's fresh, delicious, and healthy. This means food we get a hankering for and don't regret eating later on. Lots of variety is good too. Variety that offers room for lots of favorites, so when we veer back to what's tried and true we have much to choose from. Put that into a friendly, inviting environment with prices that are "weekday affordable" and you've got a go-to winner. Add in portions big enough for leftovers that you can't wait to eat and you'll begin to get an idea of what Anatolia Grill is all about.

When we went out to speak with the owners to learn more about Anatolia Grill we were invited to sample some of their dishes. They specialize in Turkish fare but have a wide range of Italian and Mediterranean options. The Turkish dishes are very approachable - lots of tasty meats and vegetables - so we recommend starting with these. 

Before diving in we were given warm, home made bread and dipping sauce. While olive oil with balsamic vinegar has become a staple with bread baskets, Anatolia goes a step further and uses Turkish olive oil, sun dried tomatoes and a hint of garlic. Some serious self control will be required at this point. Pulling strips of warm bread from the loaf and drenching them in the oil will quickly become addictive, but you must stop because you do not want to fill up too early!

The next challenge will be to pick from the generous menu. This is where eating out with a group will pay dividends. There are a lot of unique dishes to try and if you're new to Turkish food there's nothing better then getting a chance to sample widely. We started with the Mixed Grill, which came with one shish kabob each of chicken, beef, and Adana (a minced lamb with spices combo). All were grilled and nicely seasoned, but our favorite was the Adana. The dish was served with Jasmine rice, red cabbage and a lettuce salad. This is a perfect choice for someone who wants to eat paleo or gluten free. It was healthy and delicious.

The Sultan's Delight had grilled beef atop eggplant purée with mushrooms, tomato sauce and cheese. We had never had anything similar to this before, and we'll order this again (and again). It's more sophisticated than Baba Ganoush and really addictive.

Next came the home made Gyro with rice and salad. The gyro meat is spiced and cooked in house. It comes with home made garlic sauce for dipping. Again, super tasty and healthy. What really impressed us with the Gyro and many of the other dishes is that you can eat a meal that's this tasty and it doesn't have to come with a lot of starch or deep fried sides. Despite being a good sized portion, the meal is satisfying but not belly-busting. And because it is light on the starch, the post lunch carb crash isn't there.

The desserts were all good and, better yet for the sweet tooth, large portioned. And by "large" we mean "huge." Some of the desserts are nearly meals unto themselves. Unless you plan to take some of your dessert home you should seriously think about splitting. The Baklava was sweet, crunchy, and one serving was four pieces. The Kazandibi was a milk-based pudding topped with cinnamon. The Kunefe was large and served warm. It was made with thin strands of phyllo pastry and formed into a pie shape. Inside was a type of mild mozzarella cheese. The whole dessert was topped with pistachios and a hint of warm, sweet syrup. This was a spectacular dish. Because we had lingered for so long we ended up eating our Kunefe cold, despite the owner's insistence that it should be heated. Well it was unbelievable anyway. If it was this good cold I can hardly imagine when it's warm. Back to that size thing. This dessert was easily suitable for 4 people, so we couldn't nearly finish it. The next day, straight from the fridge, the Kunefe had our mouths watering.

The restaurant has an outdoor patio, bar area, main dining area and a private dining room. The decor is Mediterranean with warm, yellow-colored walls adorned with painted murals. There was Turkish music playing in the background when we were there, which made us feel like we were really eating authentic Turkish food, which we were. We sampled only the Turkish dishes, but all the food is made fresh, including the pasta and bread. 

Complaints? One. Anatolia is on San Jose Boulevard near Old St. Augustine Road (next to the Outback Steakhouse). That's a long way from the Beach! Our perfect go-to restaurant needs to be closer so we can go-to it more often. Oh well. It's definitely worth the drive and the leftovers will help the memories last longer.

We had the lunch size portions, yet still we had to ask for to-go boxes. The food was too good to leave, but too big to finish. Anatolia Grill was a true Turkish Delight.

Turkish dishes are very approachable but they may be unfamiliar to many. When in doubt, ask the wait staff to walk you through the menu. Or, you can read the interview below and let Helin Ercan introduce you to this wonderful cuisine. Then, go-to and sample!

Our interview with owner Helin Ercan of Anatolia Grill

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