There have been some changes, though not as many as one would have hoped for. After decades as Cafe Italiano, the restaurant space on Semoran Boulevard is now called Cappadocia, and its cuisine has switched focus to another Mediterranean country, to Turkey.
Cappadocia (kappa-DOH-key-ah) is a region in the central part of Turkey southeast of Ankara (and, to give it a current events slant, nearly due north of Cyprus). We’ve seen a few Turkish restaurants open in the area in the past several years, most notably Bosphorous, Anatolia (now also a Bosphorous), and Efes (a Sanford restaurant that was started by the first owners of Bosphorous but that did not last). And others, such as the very good Cedars and the recently reviewed Atlas House have Turkish characteristics on their menus. Cappadocia, however, is the first Turkish restaurant in this part of town, something that doesn’t seem unusual until you know that the Orlando Turkish Cultural Center is across the street.
That might explain why my companion and I were the only non-Turkish people in the restaurant on a recent visit. Which is usually a positive sign. There is always an assumed validation when you see members of a group patronizing a business, whether you’re talking about Turks or Japanese, Thais, even Italians -- or truckers at a truck stop for that matter. I would have to concede that most of the people in the restaurant probably had a more intimate relationship with Turkish cuisine and could rule on the authenticity of Cappadocia’s more than I could.
That said, I liked the food I sampled, although both my companion and I found some of the flavors to be a bit muted. Experientially, I found the dinner to be more utilitarian than exotic.
We started with appetizers, one from the cold list and one from the hot. The cold was called mixed eggplant, a dip that looked for all the world like baba ghanouj but which was not baba ghanouj because baba ghanouj was also on the menu. When I asked the server what the difference was, he merely shrugged and said that baba ghanouj was baba ghanouj and this was mixed eggplant. It consisted of pan-fried eggplant lightly pureed (perhaps that’s where the mixed comes in), with green pepper and garlic. We ate it with hunks of torn lavas, the Turkish bread that poofs into a dome when baked. The waiter had suggested we have it with the appetizers without mentioning that it was an extra $2.50, but really, how would we have eaten the dip otherwise?
I had the falafel, the chickpea fritter-like concoction. The outside was very dark, though not burnt, from frying. The inside was greenish, presumably from the parsley mixed in. It was served with tahini for dipping, and I liked it all very much.
For my entree I chose the stuffed white cabbage, easily the best thing of the meal -- and I don’t usually say that about stuffed cabbage. The pungent leaves were rolled about a mixture of ground lamb, onions, garlic and seasonings, baked and topped with a tomato sauce.
My friend had the hunkar begendi, the traditional dish of eggplant (pureed again, but also not baba ghanouj) mixed with mozzarella cheese, which gave it an elastic texture. It also had cubes of lamb, but not nearly enough.
There has been some touching up to the interior (see the photo below of Cafe Italiano that I took in May of 2011). The walls are the same troweled plaster texture, but they appear to be whiter, brighter. Old paintings of Italian scapes have been replaced by scenes from Turkey. There is also a television hanging from one wall that loops pictures of the countryside and other attractions. The booth backs have been replaced, but, oddly, don’t seem to match. White tablecloths, under glass tops, also add brightness. Linen napkins were offered but for some reason there is also a paper napkin dispenser on each table.
Our server gamely humored us in our “how do you say in Turkish” queries and was ultimately charming and efficient.
Still, I couldn’t help but think that as Westerners we were there for a different reason than the other guests. We were looking for something exotic and unusual; they were looking for a familiar taste of home.
Cappadocia is at 565 N. Semoran Blvd., Orlando. It is open lunch and dinner daily. Dinner entrees range from $11.99 to $21.99 with most in the mid teens. Here is a link to cappadociaturkishcuisine.com. The phone number is 407-985-2668.