A Turkish place just off the downtown mall owned by “Turkish natives . . . who . . . met while working at the Clifton Inn.” Sound familiar?
Well, now there’s another one. Otto Turkish Street Food opens today at 111 West Water Street, most recently home to Modern Nosh. With an outstanding Turkish restaurant just a stone’s throw away — also opened by Clifton Inn alum — some may wonder what sets Otto apart. In a word, doner.
Doner kebab is beloved in many parts of the world — Germany alone eats more than 2 million per day. Dating back two centuries to the Ottoman empire, the dish of meat cooked on a vertical spit is the ancestor of the gyro in Greece, shawarma in the Middle East, and tacos al pastor in Mexico.
Much to the dismay of fans of doner on a spit, though, there’s none in Charlottesville. With Otto, Turkish natives Ali Sevindi and Haldun Turgay seek to fill that void. (Sultan Kebab serves a doner kebab variation cooked on the grill.) Graduates of Hospitality and Business School, Sevindi and Turgay came to the United States in 2013 and met while working at Clifton Inn, where Sevindi was the Food and Beverage Manager. More recently, they worked together at Oakhurst Inn.
With a background in fine dining, Sevindi and Turgay had long imagined they would open a high end restaurant together. But, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they shifted to something more affordable. For that, they turned to Turkey’s beloved street food, doner kebab, which they thought would lend itself well to a fast casual concept. After months of research and practice, they seem to have it down.
They start with three cuts of beef – brisket, chuck, and sirloin – which they marinate in minced onions, salt, and pepper. Next, they stack slabs of the beef high on a vertical rotisserie, which chars the outer layer brown with flavor, while the interior stays moist. To serve, they shave off thin slices by cutting vertically down the exterior. There is also a chicken doner made from slabs of breast and thigh, shaved the same way.
The menu offers three ways to enjoy doner – wrap, bowl, or sandwich — along with a choice of Turkish toppings and sauces, like sumac onions, hummus, tzatziki, and esme, a Turkish red pepper paste. Sevindi’s favorite is a sandwich stuffed in fluffy, house-made pita bread.
There is also house-made falafel, likewise available as a sandwich, wrap or bowl.
So, what do Sultan Kebab’s owners think about the upstart down the street?
They are thrilled. Close friends of Sevindi and Turgay, Sultan Kebab’s owners even helped them launch their new restaurant. Who wouldn’t want doner kebab on a spit nearby?
Starting Friday December 4, Otto is open daily from 11am – 9pm.