Akay Paker, manager of Alaturka Mediterranean Grill and Bakery, has been in the Turkish restaurant industry since he was six years old.
“I remember being in elementary school working in my parent’s restaurant,” he said. “I would carry dishes and try to help the servers. My brother was the same. And my parents were the same. And their parents? The same.”
Ten years ago, however, the Pakers left the palaces of Turkey for the skyscrapers of New York City. Luckily for America, their culinary passion came with them.
“Being in restaurants is all my parents have ever known,” Akay said. “So when we moved to New York, they found a partner and opened another one. It did really well.”
Just like their time in Turkey, though, the Pakers’ days in New York eventually came to an end. When Akay graduated high school and committed to USF, his parents followed him to South Tampa.
And when they arrived? You guessed it—they opened a restaurant.
Opening an authentic Turkish restaurant in Tampa Bay
Fast forward to today and the family has officially opened their newest restaurant concept Alaturka Mediterranean Grill and Bakery. With Akay now out of college, and his brother Anil having recently joined the rest of the crew in the states, the Pakers wanted to combine the boys’ business knowledge with mom and dad’s kitchen skills. The new project, therefore, features parents Oktay and Zuhal as chefs, while Akay and Anil shine in the front of the house. Despite having had many restaurants in the past, the team believes the family structure of Alaturka makes it their best yet.
“There are three things that make our restaurant good,” Akay said. “We make everything homemade, we use good ingredients that are high quality and we are a total family restaurant. This makes us unique—and the customers love it. You will never see someone walk out of here making a bad face. They’re always coming back, and they’re telling their friends.”
Good food with genuine heart
Ironically, and thus proving Akay’s point, it was a customer word-of-mouth referral that originally put Alaturka on our map. The spot’s perfect 5-star Yelp score, however, helped mobilize that intrigue into a formal visit. This past Thursday we stopped into the restaurant for lunch.
Long story short: the Paker’s passion project is a wonderful, off-the-beaten-path find that is filled as much with good food as it is with genuine heart. We think, therefore, that it’s worth the hype.
And, if you try some of these dishes, we’re confident you’ll agree with us.
Baked Hummus (“Signature Appetizer”)
We know you’ve had hummus before, but you’ve never tried it like this. Served hot under a layer of melted butter and mozzarella cheese, Alaturka’s oven-baked hummus is—in Akay’s words—“A game changer.” And, for an extra couple of bucks, you can even go full pizza-style and have it topped with pepperoni.
Cold Mixed Appetizer Platter
Mediterranean cuisine is famous for its delicious dips, spreads and salads, of which Alaturka Grill offers many. If you want to try more than one of these traditional offerings, however, we recommend ordering the “Cold Mixed Appetizer” plate, which includes six.
Featuring babaaghanoush, labne, ezme and more, everything on the platter is tasty. We think you’ll be particularly impressed, though, by the restaurant’s unique, sweetly-spiced stuffed grape leaves.
Assorted Hot Appetizers
Alaturka Grill serves six different hot appetizers. Unlike the cold, though, you have to order them individually, rather than on a mixed platter. If you’re unfamiliar with Turkish fare, we suggest opting for the Sigara Borek (mixed cheeses and parsley hand-rolled in a puff pastry). If you have a seasoned Mediterranean palate, however, the tender sautéed Calf’s Liver was some of the best we’ve ever tried.
When the Pakers lived in Turkey, they resided specifically in the southern city of Adana. The team recommends the Adana Kebab, therefore, as one of their signature dishes.
Served with flavorful rice, mixed greens and grilled veggies, this well-seasoned skewer of ground meat is notably juicy, (very faintly) spicy and satisfyingly soft in texture.
Alaturka Mixed Grill
From Shish Kebabs to Shawarmas, Mediterranean fare is known for its slow-roasted meats, so it makes sense that the “Alaturka Mixed Grill”—which includes seven of them—is the restaurant’s best-selling plate.
Available for two to four people, the hot platter includes the aforementioned Adana Kebab, alongside Chicken Adana, Chicken Shish, Shawarma Doner (that classic gyro meat we’ve all seen rotating on spits), Lamb Shish, Chicken Shawarma, Grilled Chicken wings and sides of rice, veggies and delicious yogurt sauce.
We’ve never met a baklava we didn’t like, but Alaturka’s sweet, salty, sticky and gooey pistachio version is a cut above the rest. Made fresh in the restaurant’s bakery department (we bet you forgot about that part of its name), this layered treat is one of the best traditional Turkish desserts the restaurant offers.
Changing the local food game
Whether you love international fare, long to travel abroad, or are just plain hungry, Alaturka Mediterranean Grill and Bakery’s authentic Turkish cuisine will satisfy all your cravings.
With its lengthy menu of homemade dishes, this humble Palm Harbor mom and pop shop is making waves in the local Middle Eastern food scene—one falafel at a time.
Alaturka Mediterranean Grill and Bakery is located at 36055 US Hwy 19 N in Palm Harbor. For more information on the restaurant, prospective diners can visit its official website, or follow the spot on Instagram and Facebook.
What to read next:
- Tampa named one of the greatest places in the world by TIME
- Buona bringing Italian Beef sandwich shop to Florida
- PHOTOS Inside Seaglass Tavern, one of the most beautiful restaurants in Tampa
- Manga themed tea shop opening in Tampa
- Cinnaholic, vegan cinnamon roll shop, nears opening in South Tampa