There is definitely something going on with gas station cafes these days. They are not at all what they seem. Gone are the pesty old warming trays, the over-breaded jalapeño poppers, and the stale chimichangas; Austin’s gas station cafes are steadily metamorphosing into culinary butterflies.
Such is the case with Troy, a delightful Turkish cafe lurking behind a North Austin Valero station. Like the horse in the story, the charmless strip center is just a decoy. Inside Troy, Nazmi Eren and his family have effected a DIY makeover that successfully screens their invading force. Red walls and long wooden tables beckon you in. But this time, armed with a repertoire of Turkish home cookery, it’s Troy that will win the turf war.
It can be a little confusing to try to read the menu from the blackboard mounted on the wall. There are specials that aren’t listed on it, and the pricing and meat choices are hard to follow. The simplest thing to do is to just put yourself in the hands of young Eren at the counter, and let him guide you through it. The menu, composed of stews, salads, and kebabs, is small enough that it takes only a few trips to sample its entirety. All meals come with hot tea and whatever dessert the kitchen whips up that day. These tend to be sticky and pudding-ish, but usually round out the meal in a pleasant fashion.
Start with the kisir salad, made with bulgur and tomatoes ($7.95). You eat it with your hands, using the lettuce provided as a scoop to wrap around the salad. Then treat yourself to the Beef Iskender ($11.95). This is their most popular dish, and for good reason. As if the shaved gyro meat smothered in tomato sauce were not appealing enough, it is all made perfectly mouthwatering by a generous dose of warm ghee poured over it tableside. A dollop of yogurt on one side of the plate and a pouf of fluffy rice on the other balances everything out. Chicken Tantuni ($9.95) is a kitchen favorite. Boneless meat stewed in tomato broth with chopped jalapeño peppers perks up the senses, but doesn’t overwhelm them. The fluffy rice, which comes with just about everything on the menu, soaks up the sauce in a most enticing manner. But the lamb stew ($11.95) is the real menu sleeper. The musky meat flavored with onions and coriander is a savory treat.
When Eren strolls among the tables armed with a sweet smile and a killer handshake, you may just forgive him for serving your döner wrap ($7.95) in a flour tortilla rather than the puffy, yeasty pita you expect. Just like that, Troy wins you over.