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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Cafe Agora: Turkish delight

agora1Do you have children? If so, have you ever experienced one of those Friday nights when you suddenly realize that every one of them has a sleepover, and not at your house? In other words, you and your spouse are free, free, free like birds.

Spontaneous date night!

My wife and I found ourselves in this situation last week as we were both in our cars, driving kids around to various social engagements. We called each other and went, “Oh. It’s just us tonight.” So we decided to meet in Buckhead and plan a meal from there.

Standing in front of the new, intriguing, but definitely not spontaneous-date-night-worthy Kind Pie (an organic-minded pizza place with no seating), we considered a couple of nearby restaurants I wanted to try.

One was Cafe Agora. Turkish food I had heard was good. Small, edge-of-scuzz storefornt. Harsh overhead neon lights. Large deli case in front. Backlit menu board with pictures of food on it. It seemed like a gyro shop in New York’s Theater District — not a bad thing, but perhaps not date night.

Two was Seasons 52. Fancy multi-unit chain. Elegant atmosphere. Friendly hostess. Intriguing menu that promises a stringent monitoring of calorie counts and nutritional content  in the prepared dishes. I love the idea of going out to eat and being reassured that the food would be healthy as what we prepare at home. Total middle-aged date night place.

So, why did we end up at Cafe Agora? It felt more real, more our speed.

The food was great. We ordered what seemed to be the “spontaneous date night menu.” We started with the mixed appetizer plate ($12.20, above), featuring an assortment of icebox-cold, sparkling fresh Middle Eastern salads — all so clean, so confidently seasoned and unified by the fruity taste of good olive oil. Hummus and baba ghanouj shared the plate with ezme (diced tomatoes and peppers with crunchy walnuts), havuc ezme (blanched carrots shreds in a creamy dill yogurt), piyaz (white bean and potato salad) and cacik (a lovely kissing cousin to Greek tzatziki). Chopped squares of warm, fluffy pita came on the side on one of those cheap-o corrugated paper plates.

(Note to middle-aged self: Spontaneous date night is best when it reminds you of poor student date night.)

agora2We then shared this mixed grill platter ($14.95), otherwise known as meat-chunk-o-rama. Dry but well seasoned chicken, juicy lamb, köfte (seasoned ground lamb — delicious) and gyro meat sat piled high. On the side: a super-tasty salad of romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cukes, olives and feta cheese in more of that good olive oil. Hot meat, sandy with lip-tingling spices, and icy-crisp salad make a good combination.

We drank $5 glasses of damp-earth-tasting Turkish wine. The owner brought little gratis squares of baklava for dessert, so we ordered sweet, dark Turkish coffees and drank them to the grounds.

It’s kind of nice having a kid-free evening in a dumpy restaurant, eating delicious food with your partner. I highly recommend it.

29 comments Add your comment

Stephanie

March 22nd, 2010
11:00 am

I love the owner just as much as the restaurant. As we were leaving, he asked me what my favorite dishes were (which included the baba ghanouj and the unusually but delicious havuc ezme) and proceeded to PILE a styrofoam to-go box full of free goodies. What I appreciated the most though, was his confidence in how spectacular each and every one of his dishes were–and he was right.

the fish

March 22nd, 2010
12:07 pm

Good call in avoiding Seasons 52. Ate there last week with my family who had been there before without me. Terrible. They should rename it “Unseasoned 52″; everything was underseasoned and quite frankly, boring. Dumbed down corporate food. And way, way overpriced. Over $200 for the six of us was insane. Next week it’ll be Cafe Agora for me!

Paradise

March 22nd, 2010
12:19 pm

It is very tasty. I recently enjoyed a takeout small mixed appetizer platter of vegetarian dishes including hummus, baba ghanouj, havuc ezme, and cacik and so I could get a sample of several dishes. It was accompanied by warm pita bread. I don’t remember the exact price but was relatively inexpensive and quite filling.

Debbie

March 22nd, 2010
1:00 pm

We love Cafe Agora, especially the owner. He always makes me a little plate of something to nosh on while I wait for take-out – then often throws in one of his decadent baklava type desserts. I’m full before I get home :) Hubby & I can split a plate and a salad – can’t cook for what it costs us and certainly not that good. Just seeing the owner makes my day!

Sorka

March 22nd, 2010
1:04 pm

I would like to try Cafe Agora, even though I am a singleton and might not have a “date night.” It sounds tasty. If you have not tried Mezza, it is Lebanese, but has some similarly conceived foods – and it has far more “date-night” atmosphere. The Lebanese wine also doesn’t taste like damp earth. It’s quite fragrant and lovely.

mary

March 22nd, 2010
1:26 pm

Cafe Agora sounds like my kind of place. We’ll have to check it out. Thanks.

JR

March 22nd, 2010
1:30 pm

Cafe Agora is awesome. The owner is a hoot and really enhances the experience. Glad to see he is getting the credit he is due.

Atlanta Native

March 22nd, 2010
1:45 pm

I willingly drive past at least two good Mediterranean places just to get to Cafe Agora from my office. It is well worth it.

Michael

March 22nd, 2010
1:46 pm

My friends and I have been visiting Al for years…the food is fantastic and he really takes care of his customers.

23452

March 22nd, 2010
2:00 pm

Ummm isn’t Cafe Agora GREEK?

N-GA

March 22nd, 2010
2:11 pm

I lived in Turkey for 2 years and the food at Cafe Agora is authentic. I also reiterate what others here have said. The owner goes out of his way to make you feel welcome. For him I say: teşekkür ederim

Del

March 22nd, 2010
2:15 pm

Simply the best hospitality and food. You feel like family when you walk in whether you are a regular or a newbie

MB

March 22nd, 2010
2:17 pm

I love this place!

Tyrone Biggums

March 22nd, 2010
2:34 pm

It’s not a surprise that Cafe Agora is one of the best-reviewed restaurants in Atlanta (on Yelp).

Marina

March 22nd, 2010
2:52 pm

Never been – but will definitely check it out. Thanks for sharing this….

Rhonda

March 22nd, 2010
3:19 pm

My husband gets to eat there weekly for lunch as it is near his office and I am jealous i can’t get there as often.. the food is fabulous and the owner Al makes the place.. last visit for lunch with my hubby, we enjoyed great food as always and Al gave me a rose from his two dozen displayed in the restaurant….. he is a hard act to follow for any restaurateur in Buckhead or Atlanta!!

Lovey

March 22nd, 2010
4:50 pm

I’m happy to hear so many have had pleasant experiences. I wish I went with you all, but sadly my experience was far from friendly or delightful. This article is correct the atmosphere is lacking but as it helped to make it appear more authentic I stepped forward and ordered the spinach pie (phyllo dough with spinach) and some baklava. Now I’m happy to read the owners are Turkish rather than Greek as I’m used to Greek. The sad little piece of baklava was soft and overly soaked with something that tasted nothing like honey. The spinach pie was a bit better but not enough to make me return. I did not get the experience of Al the owner but I did meet some older woman who looked bothered to have to focus on business and someone who wanted explanations of what items included.

Steve

March 22nd, 2010
5:01 pm

Love this place! Al is one of the best owners in Atlanta…he goes out of his way to make sure everyone enjoys their experience at Agora. The food is fresh and made with love (his wife is responsible for all those great salads). Plus, they’re open until 4am on the weekends so its a great late night stop after the buckhead bars.

Sam

March 22nd, 2010
5:18 pm

I love Cafe Agora – the food is tasty & authentic and the owner is a hoot! While it’s definitely not a romantic date night kinda place, I don’t think “edge-of-scuzz” and “dumpy” are fair words to describe it.

Fred

March 22nd, 2010
5:35 pm

If you can squeeze into this place at lunch, it’s tops. The menu is a bit overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with the cuisine (I thought it was Greek until I read this article). The owner takes a great meal to epic proportions by engaging customers in characteristic humor and even feeding you baklava with his cigarette smoke-stained hands all the while smiling through a hastily shaven face covered in hair that runs down his neck and connects to his chest. He’s super authentic! It’s the real deal for adventurous eaters. Go there!!!

B Ha

March 22nd, 2010
6:11 pm

i don’t think it’s always available but they also have fantastic rice pudding! one of our favorite spots in town.

catlanta

March 22nd, 2010
8:07 pm

We work within the delivery zone and order from Cafe Agora once a week (typically Wednesday) and it has never disappointed. The felafel is phenomenal, the fresh pita simply divine, and no one in our group has ever experimented and regretted. High praise for the friendly staff and even more for the folks in the kitchen!

Truthpaste

March 22nd, 2010
9:02 pm

I wish I read this earlier; I would have turned off the oven and made a run to Buckhead.

Like to eat

March 24th, 2010
7:44 am

I have tried Cafe Agora and have been quite disappointed. It is not date night, or even great lunch. The paper plates buckle and the owner looks dirty. Sorry, but as I read the above it made me more sick to my stomach that his hands are stained from smoke, yuk

There are some very good middle eastern, mediterranean restaurants In Atlanta and they have great wine, who drinks $ 5.00 junk and raves about it? Having lived in Europe, Ny, Chicago and DC, this is not like the authentic turkish or greek food I have eaten

And I never plan my food around yelp, as those eaters tend to only like, cheap places where they get free food in order to write great yelpie reviews

yo

March 24th, 2010
2:55 pm

like to eat = Wuss

John Kessler

March 24th, 2010
6:08 pm

The menu offers both Greek and Turkish, which are similar. It definitely leans Turkish…

Yeah I said it...

March 24th, 2010
11:00 pm

I thought the interior was cute! Something NOT corporate and soul-stripped in Buckhead!! C’mon!! Does everything have to be polished?!?

Not to get too political here, but Americans love/trust Greeks more than other Mediterranean nationalities. It’s just true. He may be himself Turkish, but the owner knows what sells!

Love the place, the owner, and his food! So good!

Ed

March 25th, 2010
7:47 pm

I am glad Cafe Agora is getting attention for being such great place to eat. Its part of our regular rotation for lunch and we have never been disappointed. The food is exceptional.

[...] spend more money that should and suck it in because that’s one of the rules of Date Night. My wife and I enjoyed a wonderful meal without the kids at the plain, neon-lit Cafe Agora in Buckhead. Great Turkish food, cheap wine, enticing smells [...]