Run, don’t tiptoe, to Tulip Cafe
This Dublin eatery features Turkish-style breads, pastries and treats, along with well-made coffee drinks and a few generally excellent savory entrees
Tulip Cafe premiered in a Dublin strip mall last summer, but the business already had a fan base for the terrific Turkish baked goods it’s been selling for years at farmers markets. To gaze at these products from the earliest days of Tulip Cafe’s Instagram feed in 2018 — go ahead, I’ll wait — is to see beautiful breads and pastries sure to attract passing shoppers. To taste any of them is to become a repeat customer.
Opening Tulip Cafe has made that much easier. And though “cafe” might be a misnomer — seating inside the cute little shop is available at one small table brought out when needed — Tulip now has its own brick-and-mortar facility, regular hours, cases of tempting goodies and a roster of both sweet and savory dishes that can be ready in relatively short order.
And, from a soulful recent veggie soup du jour anchored by green lentils ($4.75) to the many high-grade toasted nuts in a standout pistachio baklava ($3.25), Tulip’s stuff is impressive.
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While you really can’t choose poorly here, the layered cheese borek ($4.75) is a must-try slab of crowd-pleasing comfort. Essentially an attractive casserole that’s hard to make but easy to love, it's multiple layers of supple, noodle-like, house-made dough (enriched with eggs, butter, feta, ricotta and sour cream) encased in crinkly, oven-browned house phyllo. Think dressed-up mac-and-cheese and you’re getting close.
You definitely want to get close to the spinach borek ($4.75): a flaky, buttery and crispy savory pastry of phyllo packed with spinach enhanced by feta and onion. You’ll get similar flavors but much less crunch and filling with the alluringly glossy, fatayer-like spinach flatbread ($4.75).
Pockets of feta stud the huge Turkish bagel ($4.25). Named for its shape, this light and airy sesame-seeded wheel might seem closer to a jumbo soft pretzel than a dense, chewy bagel.
Tulip’s inspired, large version of kibbeh (icli kofte; $10.25 for two) offered a fine surprise. The abundant ground beef blend beneath delicious crackly shells was juiced-up with a zippy, tomato-brightened sauce.
Dumpling fans should target the fantastic manti ($10.25): a boatload of lovely little, seasoned ground beef-filled packages swamped in a garlicky, tangy, zesty and addictive sauce that stars yogurt, tomato and butter.
Yogurt, tomato and butter likewise harmonize in Tulip’s Iskender doner kebab ($17.25), a hefty classic that can easily feed two. The aforementioned saucy trio tops somehow crispy cubes of fried house bread sopping up juices from an enormous amount of very good gyro meat, aka doner kebab. (Rule of sauce-stained thumb: Turkish restaurants in Columbus usually have the best gyro meat because they rarely use what most local Greek eateries do: ultra-processed though admittedly irresistible gyro cones mass-produced near Chicago by Kronos Food Corp.)
The same juicy meat is loaded into a hamburger bun with mayo, lettuce, tomato and a roasted red pepper sauce in the doner kebab burger ($10.50). Mine was gloriously massive and tasty if nine-napkins-necessary messy.
Desserts are special. They include that refined pistachio baklava, an excellent take on tres leches cake with beguiling caramel icing ($7.50), “semolina nut-free baklava” (similar to Egyptian basbousa and the more widely available namoura; $3.25) and the best Turkish delight you’ve never had ($6).
I nibbled on the latter — a fragrant orange jelly candy that resembled high-end, French-style pate de fruit fortified with toasted hazelnuts and pistachios — with its perfect partner: first-rate Turkish coffee ($3.50).
As I enjoyed those sublime treats, one of Tulip’s gracious owners began to expound on the history of coffee with scholarly depth. Suddenly, sitting at the lone table in a compact, tradition-embracing Turkish place where a Bon Jovi song was playing started to seem more charming than odd.
Where: 2926 Hayden Run Plaza, Northwest Side