Chalk it up to an exciting year for food in Houston, or just a recent spate of good luck. It's barely March and I could already fill up this year's list of 100 Favorite Dishes with the tremendous food I've been finding in Houston around every corner lately.
One such tremendous dish is the pide at Nazif's Turkish Grill & Deli, the subject of this week's cafe review. Unlike its homonym bread, pita, pide is no mere flatbread. Instead, it's the blissful union of slightly puffy, lightly crisped, salty-sweet, stone-baked Turkish bread and an Italian calzone -- if the calzone were open-faced and stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese and nutmeg-scented sausage.
As with most other items at Nazif's, both the pide dough and the warmly spiced sausage are made in-house, then fired up in the massive wood-burning oven. Nazif's makes its lahmacun this way, too -- Turkish pizzas with a crispy, crackery crust so impossibly thin that the oven renders it nearly transparent.
Anything that's not run through the oven is given a turn on Nazif's wood-fired grill, which imparts a beautifully rugged char to everything from kebap to the fat tomatoes and peppers served alongside most dishes, criss-crossed with black grill marks and curling like burnt paper at their edges but bursting with warm juices inside.
Lunch is the best time to enjoy these dishes, when Nazif's offers specials with surprisingly low prices: lahmacun, fries or a salad, baklava or rice pudding and a fountain drink for $10, for example, or the same set-up with a Turkish sausage pide (large enough for two) in place of the lahmacun for $12.
But as much as I enjoy Nazif's calm, cool dining room during the week at lunch, it's not my favorite time to visit the Turkish restaurant that opened last June. That's reserved for Sunday mornings, when Turkish families begin packing into the restaurant at 10:30 a.m. for live music and a brunch buffet that spreads its 50-plus dishes across the restaurant, family-style. It's indecently affordable too: A feast that typically lasts for hours costs only $15 a person.
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