With the current changes taking place in the downtown Johnson City restaurant scene, it is reassuring that know that two of the city’s hardest-working innovators have found success with a restaurant called Red Meze. Proprietors Sengul and Bulent Yaman are waving a denying finger in the face of these “Interesting Times” as if to say, “Not here. Not now.”

First impressions

Red Meze (Meze is Turkish for “appetizer”) occupies a compact storefront just across from Johnson City’s Time Capsule on Buffalo Street. Adorned with a remarkably varied Turkish décor is a dining area of sturdy tables and chairs facing a long and pillow-strewn banquette. Filled with aromas of cooked meats, pungently spiced vegetable side dishes and the faint floral perfumes of Red Meze’s drinks and desserts, the restaurant’s atmosphere evokes the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, with softly playing musical accompaniment to your meal making it even more evocative. Restroom facilities are easily accessible at the back of the dining area.

Appetizer: Ezme and pita

Two new members of the dine-around bunch joined the Retiree, my dining partner and I for a delicious evening meal in comfortable surroundings. Poppie and Nonnie have been guest participants in a couple of our gustatory adventures, and will be joining the dine-around bunch on a regular basis. While Poppie, Nonnie, the Retiree and my dining partner were busy checking out Red Meze’s menu, I asked our server Corey to bring us an appetizer of Ezme (pronounced “Ezz-Mee”) with some pita bread ($6.99).

Corey was most obliging, and had the dish of finely chopped tomato, onion, garlic and hot peppers out to us in quick order. The Ezme had the consistency of a thinned down salsa but with greater complexity to the flavor bouquet, its spice blend mixing well with the sour tang of the tomato and the pungency of the chopped green pepper. The wedges of pita bread supplied were warm, fresh-baked, and made a very serviceable and fluffy scoop for each bite.

Chicken Gyro pita

The Retiree’s choice for her supper was one of Red Meze’s Chicken Gyro “wraps” ($7.25), where thinly sliced marinated white meat chicken is folded into a freshly baked pita with chopped iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, onions and mayonnaise. Between bites, the Retiree said the chicken’s marinade was just right, and made a good accompaniment to the tomato onions and mayonnaise, filling a good-tasting bundle that easily fit in the palm of her hand.

Veggie Hummus pita

Nonnie was looking for something from the garden rather than the grassland, and chose red Meze’s Hummus Veggie pita ($7.99). Here, Nonnie chose a hummus of mashed chickpeas, creamy smooth tahini, garlic, olive oil, spices and roasted red peppers, all of it wrapped in a lightly toasted pita along with lettuce, tomato, onion, green pepper, cucumber, crumbly feta and melted provolone cheeses. After two bites, Nonnie was most impressed with her choice, being able to discern the roasted red peppers in the hummus from the tomato and onion.

Chicken kebab platter

My dining partner was looking for something more substantial than a pita filled with yummies, and opted for the chicken kebab platter ($15) from the Classic Turkish Home Cooking portion of Red Meze’s menu. The platter takes skinless chicken breast meat, marinates it in Red Meze’s proprietary spiced marinade and serves it with a quantity of Turkish-style and fragrant basmati rice. There is also some fresh pita bread along to help with the mechanics of the meal. I had a taste of the three elements of my dining partner’s meal and was pleasantly surprised with how well the three of them worked their magic to create a flavorful wholeness to the dish.

Tavuk A’la Sultan

After consultation with my dining partner, Poppie’s first meal as a dine-around bunch member was Red Meze’s signature dish, Tavuk A’la Sultan (or “Sultan’s Chicken”) ($16). Chicken again, is grilled with garlic, oregano, fresh tomato and mushrooms, then topped with mozzarella cheese and baked until bubbly. Add a side order of Red Meze’s fragrant Turkish style basmati rice and you truly have a dish fit for a Sultan or, in this case, our friend Poppie.

Daily special: Layered turkish beef with rice and tomato

I’d spotted an innocuous entry at the bottom of the Turkish Home Cooking portion of the menu, telling me to ask about Red Meze’s daily special entrees. After a word with Corey who had a word with the kitchen, I was informed it was a beef and rice dish that included sliced tomatoes and pita bread. This information aroused interest, and after an inquiry about the cost ($13.99) Corey had my order. What arrived tableside was Katmanli dana guvec, (pronounced “Catman lee dana guvesh,”) or layered beef casserole, a dish very much a part of Turkish Home Cooking. Made from layers of pita bread, tomato, Red Meze’s excellent basmati rice, and some slow-cooked, shredded and savory beef tips, I can describe my layered beef casserole appropriately with the one word in Turkish that I know.

That word is “Lezzetli.”

It means “Delicious.”

The bottom line

Red Meze Mediterranean Restaurant is a favorite of mine and my friends in the dine-around bunch. The décor and atmosphere are pleasant and exotic without being overly so. The service per our new friend Corey is excellent and professional, and the food is so good it can make you run out of superlatives describing it to your friends. There is ample parking available both on Buffalo Street and across at the lots near the Farmers Market, so your walk to and from Red Meze’s front door will be a short one.

Here’s hoping you and some friends and family make that walk soon.

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