Today was the day I decided not to carry my lunch to work and to go instead, finally, to the Istanbul Grille.
I have passed the take-out spot at 673 Liberty Ave. numerous times, forgoing the yummy smells, unbidden by the long lines because I had already brought my lunch and had to get back to work.
I stood in the doorway for about five minutes before I realized that the people who filled the tiny place were not waiting for their orders, they were waiting to order. So I took my spot at the back of the longest line I have ever stood in for lunch and began to believe the Istanbul Grille has built a cult following.
I asked the woman behind me if she had come here before and whether there was a menu.
She was a regular. “I’ve been here three times this week because this is its last day here,” Emily Balawejder told me.
“Oh, that’s why so many people are waiting,” I said.
“Oh no, it’s like this all the time,” she said.
I had seen lines but none like this. This was an outpouring, a grief lunch, a demonstration of support. Soon someone handed me a petition. The business is losing its lease and its fans are protesting.
When it was my turn, I didn’t quite know what to do. There was a buffet table of foods that women behind it served into Styrofoam cartons. I wanted everything. I hemmed and hawed until a guy beside me offered the verbal playbook: “You can get a cold plate or a hot plate and choose white sauce or hot sauce or hummus.”
I chose a hot plate and a cold plate, one for lunch and one for tomorrow. I specified so many things for the cold plate that my server had a hard time closing it. Emily had told me that I had to try the carrots.
“They’re in some kind of yogurt garlic sauce that I have been unable to replicate,” she said.
Between bites of the hot plate, I have been tapping out this blog post. I am thinking about all the lunches I could have had there and missed. But I am mainly thinking about the serendipity of my decision this morning and how lucky I am to be eating this lunch right now.
I hope Istanbul Grille finds another location Downtown, but if not, there's consolation in the fact of an Istanbul Grille run by the same people at 4130 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.
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