Turquacino on Bleecker Street

Here is an article I wrote for Time Out New York that was never published back when the gourmet market Turquacino was open on Bleecker Street.  I knew the owner Murat Engi and loved what he had done with the store.  But now New York City has Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, so it no longer needs to support private grocery owners anymore.  Yay!  (I am being sarcastic.)  I have a piece of artwork, and I can’t read the artist’s name, in which Turquacino is immortalized in a cut-out street scene of shops on Bleecker Street.

In the winter time, Engi’s store would have an adorable cart out front selling roasted chestnuts.  Oh, New York, what a mistake you make when you choose big business over the “little guy.”

Turquacino, 252 Bleecker Street, at Leroy Street

A Saturday evening on Bleecker Street is like being in the midst of a carnival or an airport.  Tourists and bridge-and-tunnelers traverse this mecca of light and madness for the experience of sipping cappuccino at a popular café.  Next door, they can buy a New York T-shirt or plastic replica of the Statue of Liberty to bring home to friends and family who await the smoky tales of their loved ones’ Greenwich Village nights.

Thanks to a new fine food market on the corner of Bleecker and Leroy Streets, the locals can reclaim the neighborhood.  Turquacino is best described as an oasis of fusion—Turkish and Italian, to be exact.  What separates it from most gourmet markets is its upper-level dining room.  Ascending the steps in the rear, you feel as if you have been transported to an outdoor patio in sunny Istanbul, as classic Turkish music plays overhead. Plants hang from the ceiling and lamps with orange paper whirling like flames adorn the area.  Both the rustic wooden chairs and ornate, orange, green, and blue tile-topped tables were specially made in Turkey.  Every few months, the owner, Murat Engi, returns to his homeland to find a new addition to the warm décor.  A smiling, mustached man, Engi beams when speaking of his new venture.  He is right when he mentions that most gourmet groceries do not have an eating area.  He says, “It is nice to sit and eat when you get out of work and don’t want to cook.”  Indeed, it is, and Turquacino has an extensive menu of sandwiches, pizza, and salads.

Friendly servers explain the less familiar Turkish items, such as simit, sweet bread topped with black sesame seeds, and kofte izgara, grilled meatballs in a special sauce.  Turquacino offers many Middle Eastern favorites, like gyros, tabouli, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, shish kebobs, and falafel.  It twisted classic pizza with toppings such as Turkish pastrami and Turkish pepperoni.  Italian lovers can still get a thick slab of pizza with olives or sun-dried tomatoes, among other choices, focaccia, or calzones.  The cold bar has a variety of olives such as Picholine, fresh fruits from strawberries to grapefruit, and salads like octopus.  Like every good gourmet shop, Turquacino has a wide variety of cheeses, deli meats, and staples from Norwegian Jarlsberg to prosciutto di Parma to Ronnybrook Farm milk.

So enjoy a cup of dark Turkish coffee and a diagonal slice of pistachio-flecked baklava in your own backyard until the wee hours of the morning, as the market is open until 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights.  In winter, Engi plans to sell roasted chestnuts from an old-fashioned street cart complete with oil lamps.

(Open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 3 am on Friday and Saturday.  Entrees $4.99-$8.99.)



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