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The gift horse: Troy's Mediterranean Grill 

Turkish dishes shine amidst Greek fare

I was too late. I have written in this space before about the importance of visiting an ethnic eatery when it first opens. Why? In the first few weeks, most ethnic restaurateurs offer the foods of the original plan. If that owner is Turkish and the place is fast casual, the quintessential Turkish sandwich, the vertically grilled meat döners, usually shine.

But what happens too often in Charlotte and in other American cities is that within a few weeks of opening, the menu changes. Items that don't sell disappear from the menu. Most restaurateurs do not have the luxury — i.e., cash reserves — to educate customers. So other dishes become Epcot facsimiles of the original and tweaked to meet the expectations of the diners. Sometimes this new blending becomes its own classification: TexMex and CalMex are variations of traditional Mexican dishes in Texas and California. The sweeter New York-styled Chinese cuisine is popular in the NYC metro area and NoCaThai is the Thai cuisine variation pervasive throughout North Carolina.

When owners Chef Goktug (Gio) Hoser and Rasim Ozbay opened the fast casual, 30-seat Troy Mediterranean Grill last August, döners had a place on the menu. Now they do not.

Troy is not the first restaurant venture for Ozbay: He owned Carolina Kebab, which closed for the expansion of Highway 74 several months ago. Hoser is an experienced baker who supplies Turkish simits to area Middle Eastern shops.

The real estate has not changed much since it was Aloha Hawaiian BBQ & Grill. One side wall still sports the mural of the South Pacific; another has a few framed pictures of Venice. Yeah, Venice. The blue table tops are from the old Middle East Deli that became Carolina Kebab, and the cushioned chairs are unusually comfortable for a fast casual spot. It seems that as many people take out as eat in.

The menu is festooned with photographs; this becomes disappointing when dishes do not match the pictures. Greek dishes now drive the menu and thus the pita bread is the thicker Greek variety. Hoser says the gyros are the most popular item, and these are made with slices from the processed meat cone. The spanakopita is not made in-house.

For the record, the Turkish-styled grilled beef kabobs are quite delicious, as are the shish kafta with remarkably fresh tzatziki sauce. But the falafels, a mix of both chickpea and fava beans, miss the mark in both flavor and crunchiness, even when slathered with tahini. The grape leaves are perfunctory and the tabbouleh taste of the walk-in. Tabbouleh should be made to order, fresh each time. Green salads come with most dishes and these are prepackaged in clam shells.

In keeping with the menu, the desserts are plainspoken. The baklava and the kataifi taste homemade; the bottom layers of phyllo are soggy. But the rendition of the sensational baked rice pudding, a classic Ottoman dish, is infused with an unmatched delicate creaminess.

For a culture whose empire ruled the Middle East for hundreds of years and left their recipes wherever they governed, what seems to be most known is Turkish coffee. And you'll find that here, too. Turkish eateries have had an uneven record in Charlotte, so it's not surprising that Troy has made the odyssey across the Aegean to the safety of Grecian dishes. But what succeeds here are the few remaining Turkish dishes.

8170 S. Tryon St., Whitehall Common Shopping Center. 704-765-8769. Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.facebook.com/TroyGrill. www.troygrill.com.

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