Good to Go

Lezzet Turkish Foods in Rockville

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One savvy customer and the willingness to evolve have benefited this bright, well-stocked Turkish market tucked in a small shopping strip just off Route 28 near Interstate 270. Owners Muslum and Mine Altun opened Lezzet about three years ago, partly because Mine couldn't find the products she loved from her native Istanbul and beyond.

The charming couple stocked their shop with more than 500 grocery items: rose-petal, hibiscus and quince jams; teas; candies; pistachios; different weights of bulgur. They filled a long wall of refrigerator and freezer cases with phyllo doughs, soujouk (dried beef sausage), flash-frozen sardines and mackerel from the Mediterranean, fruit nectars, and soft white cheeses and yogurt as winning as their Greek counterparts.

The Altuns offered freshly baked pitas and pastries, as well as tiny stuffed pasta called manti ($10.99 per pound) that local Turkish women would make for them by hand.

Fatih Culha became one of their regular customers. About eight months ago, he asked the owners, "Why not have takeout foods here, too, like they do in Turkish shops?" As it happened, Culha was chef-owner of the Balkan Grill in Alexandria, and he knew a thing or two about kebabs and stuffed pastries.

The Altuns welcomed his offer and partnership; two weeks ago, the new grill and oven area at the front of Lezzet began humming with orders of lahmacun, a kind of Turkish pizza on crisped round pitas with a thinly slathered ground beef, parsley, onion and bell-pepper sauce and served with lettuce, tomato and onion ($3.99). On a recent visit, we found customers sitting at one of three tables, eating the specialty the way it's done in Turkey: folded, with some of the salad fixings in the middle.

A variety of made-to-order Mediterranean and European salads and sandwiches are on the menus, which for now are printed with the Balkan Grill logo. We especially liked the cevapcici/inegol kofte sandwich, made with grilled pieces of sausage and served with soft, hot bread and the same three-part salad (with five pieces of sausage, $5.90; seven pieces, $7.90; 10 pieces, $9.90). The grilled fish of the day, usually trout or tilapia, makes a substantial meal ($10.80).

Perhaps the best things to come out of the kitchen are the burek. The large, hand-rolled and incredibly delicate savory pastries are stuffed with a mixture of either ricotta, cottage cheese and cream, or cheese and spinach or spiced ground meat ($4.99), and they are a true labor of love. Culha says his Alexandria shop makes about 100 per day.

Come on Sundays midday and you might find cook Fatmah Bilal shaping long logs of filled dough into a kind of palm-size paper clip. Fresh out of the oven, a burek can help you start off your week with a contented sigh.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

Lezzet Turkish Foods 1119 Nelson St. (Woodley Gardens Shopping Center), Rockville; 301-545-1688. Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The same takeout foods also are available at the Balkan Grill (near the Huntington Metro station), 5902-A N. Kings Hwy., Alexandria, 703-329-3303;

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