Food in Midtown East is often either too expensive or too boring (soups, salads, and sandwiches). Güllüoglu was featured in RealCheapEats‘ list for a while, and I immediately added it to my list when I noticed the location. Güllüoglu is a Turkish cafe known for serving up 12 varieties of baklava, a Turkish pastry made with phyllo dough, crushed nuts, and sweetened with syrup and honey. After asking for a Turkish coffee ($2.75), I skipped past the menu’s entrees and went straight for their specialties. The waitress returned a few minutes later (without my drink) to ask how I can drink coffee without sugar, a question I didn’t know how to answer.
The coffee arrived in a miniature mug with a small piece of Turkish delight attached to the end of a toothpick. It had a deep brown color and a thick consistency. Turkish coffee is actually method of preparation, using finely powdered beans that are boiled with water (and sugar if you like). It was no surprise at all that it tasted bitter, although not burnt. At the bottom of the cup you’ll be left with something that looks like mud. Don’t drink that.
The awkward waitress forgot our order and had to confirm the Gul Boregi ($3.50) that I asked for. Since it was pre-made, it at least arrived quickly. Gul Boregi is a roll of phyllo pastry named after a rose because of its shape. I was pleased to see the inside was nicely packed with a filling of spinach and minced beef, but wished there was more meat for me to taste. Fortunately, the spinach was properly moist and savory. I wasn’t expecting it to be served at room temperature, but I didn’t have trouble enjoying it.
After 20 minutes of waiting and another 5 of looking at the staff, the waitress noticed it was time for our dessert. Güllüoglu makes the baklava in Brooklyn, using ingredients imported from Istanbul. From what I’ve gathered, they seem like a popular brand in Turkey (and have three locations in New York). Baklava is in their name, so I expected something fantastic. I went for two small pieces of both the Fistikli and Cevizli, the pistachio and walnut baklavas. Both were dense and heavily soaked in syrup and honey, with the crushed nuts adding another dimension of texture between the sticky phyllo. Many reviewers on Yelp were turned off by the sweetness of the treats, but it’s enjoyable if you’ve got a drink beside you to wash it down.
Add Güllüoglu to your personal list if you’re unfortunate enough to work in the neighborhood (like I do). It’s an interesting and authentic spot to add to your weekly lunch rotation. Although they appear to be over-staffed, the service can be spotty. Just don’t arrive during a short break.
EDIT: Mo commented that he expected a lower rating from me for Gulluoglu. I actually thought about giving them a 3-star rating, but reconsidered. The service certainly was poor, but I felt it would be unfair to suggest that someone pass on a restaurant because of one quirky waitress. The area is also light on good food options already, so it’s easy to stand out. The last factor that convinced me to go with a 4-star rating was that it was a Turkish (and authentic) place, which is something people don’t get to try very often.