I keep reading article after article about all the new restaurants coming to Tampa Bay in 2016. And I keep thinking, “Damn, I got to get out there and try some new places.” When I saw Meaghan Habuda’s article in Creative Loafing, “Five Courses: North Pinellas Ripe with New Restaurants and More,” I decided to postpone my new restaurant adventure no longer. The lure of kebabs in Oldsmar was just too much for me to resist. I’m talking about Café Mezze on Tampa Road in Oldsmar.
I’ve been craving kebabs since I left the DC metro area in 2009. Kebabs originated in Turkey, and there just aren’t a lot of Turkish restaurants outside of major cities. There was, until recently, a Turkish restaurant in Ybor City called Instanblu. In June 2016 Instanblu was reincarnated as Café Mezze in Oldsmar, where it will likely draw a different crowd. If you are afraid to try Turkish food, you really shouldn’t be. Although it may sound quite foreign, you will surely recognize menu items like shish kebabs, hummus, and lamb chops. When it comes to Turkish food, there is a taste of the familiar in the exotic.
I owe my discovery of Turkish food to the many ethnic-food lovers I met living in the DC area. They were always happy to recommend great ethnic restaurants to me, and two of these places happened to be Turkish/kabob restaurants. At Levantes (replaced by Ankara in 2015) I was told to order the Turkish pide, which was described as being like Turkish pizza. Then I was introduced to Moby Dick House of Kabob, a Middle Eastern food franchise in the DC metro area where I tried my first Middle Eastern kabob. I remember relishing these new flavors. I had never tasted kebabs or rice like this, but I loved it then and I still love it now. Sadly, if no one had ever told me how great these restaurants were, I probably never would have tried Turkish or Middle Eastern food.
Now I wish to pay that kindness forward by recommending a very enjoyable Turkish dining experience in Oldsmar, FL. Café Mezze has an excellent menu full of kebabs, Turkish meat sautes, and small dishes (mezze), all of which are served in an attractive, modern dining room.
For the full Turkish dining experience, you should come with a group and share an appetizer sampler before your meal. This way you can taste most of the mezze, or small plates, that the restaurant is named for. If you don’t have room for all the mezze, however, you can always just munch on the complimentary pide bread with dipping oil while waiting for your meal to come out.
Follow this up with some kebabs or a Turkish saute. I ordered the mixed grill kebab on my visit, which included chicken kebab, lamb shish kabob, gyro meat, and adana (seasoned ground lamb) kebab. It’s enough food for two people and I highly recommend sharing it. The kebabs came with an incredibly flavorful and delicious rice pilaf, grilled tomato and bell pepper, perfectly-vinegary red cabbage, pepperoncini peppers, and what looks like a thin Turkish grilled tortilla.
Everything tasted wonderful and reminded me of all the great ethnic food I’ve been missing here in North Pinellas. My favorites were the chicken and lamb shish kebabs. I loved biting into those tender cubes of marinated, grilled meat. The rice was incredibly flavorful and delicious, and I enjoyed the amalgam of peppers, tomato, and cabbage. In short, I really liked this place and I want to go back. You should try it. You can preview their menu online before you go: http://cafemezze.com/#kataleyafoodmenu.