The signature dish alone is worth the trip. They will tell you about it: oven-baked hummus ($10.99). Mmm, okay. Pureed chickpeas with tahini, only warm? Hummus is so ubiquitous these days it's probably offered as a Lunchable.
But then it comes: an oval cast iron skillet on a wooden board, the hummus and its mantle of mozzarella cheese audibly bubbling. Next to it arrives a huge golden balloon, a just-from-the-oven sesame-dusted lavash, which you puncture to allow a whoosh of steam to escape, the whole thing deflating slowly like a birthday aftermath. Rip off a hunk of lavash — watch the fingers, still hot — and swipe it through the skillet. That's a party.
Bayshore Mediterranean Grill opened some months back when Gengiz Khan Restaurant, another Turkish restaurant, vacated to move to larger digs on Bay to Bay Boulevard. Tampa Bay has precious few Turkish restaurants, a bigger handful of broadly Middle Eastern restaurants and a bigger handful still of Mediterranean restaurants. Maybe part of the paucity is a definitional problem: What constitutes Turkish food? It's like Lebanese food (kibbeh, tahini, spices like sumac) and Persian food (pilafs with dried fruit and saffron, pomegranate walnut chicken stew) only without pomegranate syrup or much cilantro. It doesn't have the lamb tagines or couscous of Morocco, but goes heavy on eggplant and sometimes scoots in a little dill and paprika.
There's a reason it's all a little muddy. The Ottoman Empire absorbed the flavors and ingredients of all that it conquered, and for centuries was thought of as one of the world's great cuisines (what do you think of that, France and China?), with robust regional difference to keep things contentious. Bayshore Mediterranean Grill isn't sweating the regional nuances, but offers a broad menu focused primarily on kebabs. This does not mean it's generic, because there are some items you don't frequently see in these parts.
The Iskender kebab ($14.99), famous in northwestern Turkey and named for its inventor in the late 19th century, Iskender Efendi, brings shaves of lamb/beef doner on pieces of pita, over which is ladled a warm tomato sauce and drizzles of tangy whole milk yogurt.
But before we get to the kebabs, let's hit the apps. The way to go is the mixed cold appetizers ($13.99 for a service that will work for three people, $20.99 for double that). You'll get eggplant two ways, as a smoky pureed baba ghanouj and as a chunkier mix of eggplant and peppers called soslu patlican, kind of like Turkish ratatouille. There's excellent strained yogurt, in Turkey called haydari, a very pleasant hummus and a shredded carrot salad that didn't do much for me, all of it served with smoky, flavorful grilled pita wedge. It's a great contrast to something called mucver (7.99), crisp-edged zucchini fritters flavored with dill weed and served with a creamy yogurt sauce. These had more verve to me than Bayshore's chickpea-based falafel ($6.99) and was the kind of dish a vegetarian could easily embrace as an entree.
I steered you to the mixed cold platter and I'm going to do the same thing with the kebabs: The Bayshore mixed grill ($23.99) is enough food to share with a buddy, and gives you the full complement, from ground lamb flecked with red pepper to juicy grilled shavings of doner to yogurt-marinated chicken, all of it accompanied by a little green salad, a tangy red cabbage salad and a bulgur pilaf. (In Turkey there are two kinds, the fine-ground that you'd find in a tabbouleh, and a larger grain that reads more like rice.)
Much Turkish food has a lightness and "cleanness" to it, without heavy saucing. You can eat robustly without feeling nappish, which will allow you to dive into the pistachio-topped kanafe, a baked shredded phyllo cheese custard in a super-sweet sugar syrup. I'm not going to lie: Not everyone is going to go to town on this, but accompanied by a small glass cup of Turkish tea, it's lovely.
Bayshore Mediterranean Grill is the kind of neighborhood mom-and-pop that exudes warmth and a will to please. Its Interbay location is a bit out of the way, but proximity to the globetrotters who work at MacDill, plus a location that previously housed another Turkish restaurant, will hopefully cement a loyal customer base.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.