By Brooke Shoffner
When Reyhan Öner and her family arrived in Fayetteville from Ankara, Turkey, in 2013 the first thing she sought was her native country’s cuisine. Unhappy with other’s attempts in recreating something to treasured, the Öner family prepared to open their own authentic Turkish restaurant.
In 2015, after two years of language classes, restaurant research, and perfecting her menu, Reyhan opened the doors of Reyhan Turkish Kepbaps downtown Fayetteville at 113 Person Street. With a modest five tables inside surrounded by rustic brick interior, the restaurant also offers outdoor seating, perfect for people watching downtown. Reyhan Turkish Kepbaps comes highly recommended. Locals say its a great stop for a fresh lunch or a special dinner date.
Perfecting the fare
From age 11, Reyhan Öner began apprenticing in her mother and grandmother’s kitchens. As she learned the ins and outs of Turkish cooking, she perfected the fare just as the generations before her had. During this time, Reyhan discovered an innate and profound relationship with food. Over the years, she maintained a steady career operating a catering business out of her home in Turkey. In fact, Reyhan is so in touch with Turkish cuisine she can complete her entire menu without any written recipes. In fact, she doesn’t remember the last time she wrote a recipe down. She trusts Turkish ingredients. They’re clean enough to pair together and build a complete meal.
Prior to coming to the United States, Reyhan had plans to open her own restaurant by the same moniker in her hometown of Ankara, but her husband befriended a soldier from Fayetteville who was stationed in Turkey and Reyhan and her husband made a big decision to make the move to the United States. She said she had a pretty good idea of what to expect in the United States prior to her continental shift, but when she arrived, she forgot how crowded her homeland had become. At home here in the south, she enjoys the slower pace of life. Sometimes, she says, she is homesick for the hustle and bustle of big city living, but home where she is, Reyhan is also looking towards a brighter future. When I spoke with her, she told me, proudly, standing behind her counter, the plans for a second location opening in the spring of 2018 in the upcoming Freedom Town Center at the intersection of Skibo and Cliffdale roads. A second location is from a season of success.
Hospitality & Integrity
Turkish people are known to be quite passionate about their food, but for the Öner family, they are just as passionate about their customers. Dining at Reyhan’s is truly an experience. As a Turkish tasting first-timer, I glanced over the menu and only saw unfamiliar names. But once I ordered, I recognized the familiar ingredients around the plate: yogurt, eggplant, fresh pita bread, lamb, and loads of olive oil. These are ingredients we all know and love.
Much like a typical Turkish meal for a large family, Reyhan encourages her diners to try a bit of everything while sharing entrees. Hospitality is evident. Once you leave the restaurant, it’s as if you’ve left a dear friend’s dinner party. The departure is on a promise you’ll return soon.
Although Turkish food may have similarities to Persian and Greek cuisine, with spicier influences from Arab cultures, there are differences in preparation. Turkish menus are generally prepared with olive oil and flavors from fresh, local produce. Flavors are clean, bright, and bold. At Reyhan’s, everything is prepared in-house daily. There is a purity to the cooking, which allows the meze’s (Turkish small plates) and entrees to speak for themselves. Ordering at Reyhan’s becomes a privilege.
When asked about what other types of food she enjoys, Reyhan laughed. “I don’t. I only like my food,” she stated. Nursu, Reyhan’s daughter, rephrases what her mother has trouble putting into words. “What sets us apart is that we have kept the integrity of our country in our menu. Respectfully, nothing is Americanized here.” Reyhan adds, “You could come to this restaurant straight from Turkey and not know the difference.”
The menu lists nine entrees, a handful of appetizers, salads, and desserts. Albeit, the menu at Reyhan’s is small, but it is mighty. Time permitting, Reyhan will prepare anything requested, as long as it’s Turkish. She recommends a request for stuffed eggplant, her favorite non-menu item.
The carte du jour is kept traditional; her most popular dishes include a doner kebab and doner gyro (a mix of lamb and beef) served with yogurt, mixed veggies, rice, and made-to-order pita bread. Her Kiymali Pide (a baked flatbread with beef, vegetables, and Turkish spices) is something to truly marvel over. However, saving the best for last, Reyhan has perfected the popular Mediterranean baklava dessert. Described on her menu as a “sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup,” the baklava is dusted with hand-crushed pistachios and leaves customers and their taste buds beseeching for just one more bite. And just when you think you are absolutely stuffed, Reyhan will not let you leave without a taste of what Turkey is also famous for—its tea and coffee. With ingredients shipped straight to her from Turkey and served in intricate glasses, Reyhan’s coffee is unlike any coffee served in this area. The beans are boiled and if any sugar is added, it’s done before its poured. The result is bold and unique. Once you taste it, it’s evident why these hot drinks are such an important addition in life.
Fayetteville is often described as a cultural melting pot. It’s easy to overlook the beauty in cultures that are not as common as others, but when you combine familiar ingredients with an authentic generosity you enlighten more than just your taste buds. Reyhan Öner, she does Turkish cuisine justice.