Parking lots at night are typically magnets for hoodlums and ruffians, yet the paved parcel at 118 Lake Ave. in Maitland attracts a different sort of character after dusk – the intrepid gastronome. They come from parts unknown, driving into this crammed lot for an opportunity to sample the Turkish delights coming from the glass-blocked edifice of Shish.Co Mezze & Grill.
The Mehmets running the kitchen (Tanriver and Gurkaynak, for the record) are two of the most pleasant and down-to-earth chaps you'll ever meet. On various occasions, I've seen Tanriver's equally jovial wife in the kitchen and their grown-up children serving, cleaning and manning the till on the other side of the walk-up window. Their familial warmth is tangibly felt by Shish.Co's patrons, so much so that dining in a parking lot, under a canopy, feels very much like dining in their home. I say this not out of some meditative wool-gathering, but from being seated in close proximity to Tanriver and his clan while they broke bread on a bench under the same canopy one night just before closing time. They willingly engaged us in banter, generously offered us complimentary dessert and coffee, then graciously bade us farewell, making every effort to ensure our return.
Prior to that moment, we dined – gorged, rather – on dishes wholly representative of one of the world's great cuisines. Kebabs (doner and otherwise) were a given, but what really gave our meal the feel of a summertime nosh at a grand vizier's palace were the grated zucchini "pancakes" called mucver ($7.95). Blended with carrots, dill, onions and parsley, these square-shaped fritters with a smoky spirit were served with a raita-like yogurt sauce. The char-grilled eggplant salad ($6.50) also comprised a nice smoky essence, and closely resembles baba ghanoush. Accompanying lavash resembles store-bought pita more than the inflated, piping-hot, balloon-like bread we're accustomed to eating at Turkish restos, but it served its purpose as a worthy scooping instrument.
Peckish cinephiles exiting late-night screenings at the Enzian tend to favor Shish.Co's beef-lamb doner ($8.50) and ground beef kofte kebab ($8.50), and with good reason. Both sandwiches are exquisitely succulent, and the fact they can be enjoyed until 2 a.m. Saturday nights is just a bonus. As much as I like the two sandwiches, the chicken kebab ($9), served in a flatbread bowl with cooked bulgur, might be my favorite. The chicken is marinated overnight in a paste of red pepper and tomato, then grilled low and slow. The unmistakable flavor of cumin, the bread soaked in meat juice, the fluffy bulgur – it all makes for one wickedly good meal. (It's good drunk food, too.)
The marinated lamb chops ($12) here are remarkably pliant; just know that they're cooked well-done, as is customary in many countries of the Orient. Homemade baklava ($3) is good, but their kurabiyesi, shortbread cookies soaked in honey ($3), are my new addiction. I love my cookies slightly charred, and these babies were just that. They're also best enjoyed with a little Turkish coffee or Turkish tea.
Most of Shish.Co's orders are of the takeout variety, so if you choose to dine in (or out, rather), don't expect loud music and belly dancers. The food, however, will have you dancing in your seat.