I didn't really know what I was ordering when I selected the pasha kebab from the "wraps and sandwiches" section of the menu at Antepian Turkish Cuisine, which opened earlier this summer next door to H Mart in Aurora.
But I was certain it would be something special, since, at $14, the mysterious item was priced more than $5 higher than any of the five other wraps and sandwiches. I knew that the word "pasha" was an honorary title once given to bigwigs in the Ottoman Empire, so it was safe to assume I'd be getting a meal fit for nobility. After all, similarly named "sultan platters" at many Middle Eastern restaurants often denote a delicious pile of the kitchen's best efforts.
My instincts were on target. The pasha kebab turned out to be the Mediterranean sandwich I'd been yearning for but had never quite managed to track down in Denver: big, meaty, bursting with bold flavors, and built on housemade bread rather than boring, store-bought pita.
To understand the pasha kebab, you first need to consult Antepian's flatbread menu. The eatery specializes in the food of southern Turkey, near the border with Syria, and its name comes from Antep, the ancient name of the modern city of Gaziantep. In that city, a topped flatbread called lahmacun is popular — and for good reason. It's similar to pizza, only without cheese; toppings usually include fine-ground beef or lamb heavily spiced with Aleppo peppers, garlic, onion, parsley and other seasonings. Antepian Turkish Cuisine sells its lahmacun as "Turkish pizza" for only $5.99 for a plate-sized oval cut in two that's big enough for a filling lunch.
Antepian also makes kiyma kebabs from ground lamb so laden with paprika and other spices that the finished product, grilled on a long, flat skewer, tastes more like sausage. Why am I telling you this now? Because the pasha kebab takes an entire kiyma kebab and wraps a lahmacun around it, so you're getting two distinct regional foods with each bite of the hefty sandwich. A side salad of cabbage, tomatoes and purple onions dressed in olive oil and herbs can be eaten on its own or used as additional stuffing (something I recommend) to add bright crunch.
The pasha kebab is no short-order special. The flatbread is baked fresh for your sandwich, and the skewer of ground beef gets grilled at the same time. But the result, a juicy, fiery mess on chewy bread, is worth the wait. I can only imagine that a creamy, tangy glass of Antepian's ayran (a yogurt-based drink) would turn the experience into pure bliss.
Turkish cuisine was almost entirely absent from the Denver restaurant scene until just over a year ago, but now several new eateries have opened, each specializing in different elements of Turkey's vast food offerings. Bosphorus in Englewood brings iskender kebab and other diner-style food from Istanbul, while Istanbul Cafe & Bakery does flaky, layered pastries, breads and sandwiches. In Boulder, Breakfast Champion serves trays of small plates and baked goods typical of lavish Turkish morning spreads.
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But Antepian's lahmacun and other flatbreads are rare finds. Along with the Turkish pizza, you'll find canoe-shaped pide filled with cheese and soujouk, a dry-cured sausage. There's also etli emek, similar to the lahmacun, only bigger and with a different blend of ground meat and seasonings (and about twice the price). Wraps, including grilled chicken, döner or shish kebab, come swaddled in thin bread almost like a flour tortilla. A meatball sandwich, unlike its marinara-doused Italian-American cousin, is actually a baguette-style roll layered with flattened köfte patties.
Antepian's other menu items include lentil or rice-and-yogurt soups, sides of rice or wheat pilaf, a variety of meat and vegetable kebabs, and a few appetizers such as stuffed grape leaves and kibbeh, fried rounds of bulgar wheat stuffed with ground beef (the menu describes them as "fist-sized").
And when your waiter offers to end your meal with Turkish coffee or tea and baklava, treat yourself like a pasha and say yes.
Antepian Turkish Cuisine is located at 2767 South Parker Road in Aurora. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday (staying open until 10 p.m. on Fridays), 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Call 720-603-4854 or visit antepianturkishcuisine.com for more details.