There's been a lot of talk about pizza in Houston lately, from the incoming Gino's East chain that's bringing Chicago-style deep dish to the northern suburbs to the second coming of Pizaro's Pizza that's bringing Napoletano-style pies to the corner of West Gray and Montrose (set to open any day now!). But there's a good chance that among all the different styles of pizza in the city right now—and we're including Pink's Pizza in a category all its own—you've never tried Turkish pizza.
5613 Morningside Dr.
What's that? Turkish cuisine includes pizza? Well, not in the strictest sense. Pide, pronounced "pee-day," is a flatbread similar in name, flavor, and texture to pita, its Middle Eastern neighbor-bread. Unlike pizza, pide is roughly shaped like an oval with two pointed ends. And unlike pita, it's generally topped with a variety of meats, cheeses, and eggs. At Nazif's Turkish Grill & Deli in west Houston, my favorite pide comes with cheese, nutmeg-laced sausage, and scrambled eggs. Nazif's also sells the famous Turkish bagels called simit, but you have to get to the restaurant when it opens for those as they sell out fast.
On the section of the menu of Istanbul Grill in Rice Village called, fittingly, "Turkish pizza," you'll find a slightly wider variety of both pide and lahmacun, which is basically the thin-crust pizza of the Turkish world (and a topic best reserved for another blog post all its own).
As with Nazif's, the pide dough is made in-house and hand-thrown before heading into a wood-burning oven to bake. The result is a puffy, slightly chewy, barely sweet crust that's excellent on its own but even better if dipped in Nazif's homemade lebni, a tart, thickened yogurt that's blended with fresh herbs—think of it like the sour cream and onion dip of the gods. I like the pide filled with ground lamb at Istanbul Grill, though some may find the strong flavor of the meat overwhelming; for those in search of a milder entrée to the Turkish pizza genre, I suggest trying the simple cheese pide with mozzarella.
And if you find yourself enjoying the lebni, I suggest splurging on a plate of manti. In the interest of continuing the Italian/Turkish analogy, think of manti as tiny ravioli. The dough (again, made in-house at Istanbul Grill) is stuffed with ground beef, baked in the same wood-burning oven, then gently boiled to finish. In lieu of a cream sauce like alfredo, this Turkish ravioli is topped with that same garlicky yogurt, a drizzle of red pepper sauce, and fresh mint.
Istanbul Grill once only served this dish on Sundays, but thanks to its popularity you can now find it all week long. This makes it even more convenient for talking your friends into trying the Turkish versions of a few old favorites next time they suggest going out for pizza and pasta.