Until recently, I hadn't even realized that the traditional cuisine of Turkey could boast meatballs--much less meatball sandwiches--as one of its indispensable culinary gifts to world culture. Then again, perhaps it can't. When I ask Mehmet Ocak, the owner and sole proprietor of Abe's Place restaurant in West Seattle, where he got such a fabulous recipe, he grins coyly. I'm expecting a story--some exotic nostalgia about Grandma in the hot kitchen, about know-how that's been passed down for generations upon generations. "I made it up," he says.
Well. If I am to take Ocak (pronounced "Oh-Jak") at his word, then I am also prepared here and now to declare him a genuine meatball genius. Ecce Corpus Carnivorus, the Turkic pièce de résistance: About an inch and a half in diameter, and aglint with an orangish-yellow patina of savory sauce, Ocak's delicately seasoned pure-beef orbs are studies in righteous simplicity. The trick to such perfection, he will tell you, is rice, a thickening additive that grants each lovely meatball its soft, succulent texture. To this base, Ocak adds just the proper amount of fresh garlic, onions, peppers, zucchini, paprika... along with six herbs that shall remain confidential. The sandwiches themselves receive two each of these wondrous meatballs, heaped up and then smashed down between two toasted French buns slathered in a melted cheddar-mozzarella melange. All this for a mere $4.50.
It would be entirely sufficient were the gastronomic joys of Abe's Place limited exclusively to the wonderful meatball sammy. It really is that good. There is, however, another item on the spare menu that vies for primacy in Ocak's sandwich hierarchy. The barbecue beef sandwich ($4.50), piled high with only the tenderest, juiciest chunks of marinated meat and swimming in a tangy sauce, presents a tantalizing vision of excess. This one also calls for the fork treatment, as the sandwich is generously constructed--almost ridiculously so--and overflowing with soft, stringy bites of Ocak's hand-selected and painstakingly prepared bottom round. The thing's got to weigh about a pound. It's simply too much to eat, and yet impossible to resist. More than once, I've watched a good friend, overcome by appetite, wolf down one of these babies in a matter of minutes, only to slump immediately into a state of catatonia, eyes glazed and grinning despite some obvious gastrointestinal discomfort.
These, then, are the two staple menu items at Abe's Place. Ocak also makes a nice pepperoni sandwich for $3, as well as offering side orders of hot cheese bread and garlic bread. And the soups are fantastic--especially the homemade chicken, which is thick, buttery, loaded with pasta and fresh vegetables, and topped with a little twist of fresh lemon juice. Perfect for colds, says Ocak. The lentil soup is equally hearty and well-seasoned. A cup of either of these hand-crafted broths will run you just a buck and a half; a bowl, $2.50.
Finally, there's the fresh-squeezed lemonade ($2). This stuff is so irresistibly delicious that I always slurp it down too fast, and then that little space in between my eyes freezes up. It hurts like the dickens, but I can't help it. The secret ingredient in Ocak's topnotch lemonade is a finishing twist of orange, which adroitly cuts the tartness with a fruity citric sweetness. (Fresh orange juice is also available.) I haven't tasted fresh juice this good since Oaxaca.
And speaking of sunny Mexico, I should mention also that Abe's Place (named in honor of Ocak's son Abraham, who passed away in 1999) is an entirely outdoor eatery. The spacious patio is surfaced in beautiful old red brick and bordered by a low wooden gate that fronts the street. There are tables and also a nice standup bar at which you can dig into your sandwich of choice. With a fork, of course. Trust me on this one.
2310 California Avenue SW, 933-7398. Open 11 am-8:30 pm every day. No alcohol. $
Price Scale (per entrée)
$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up