Steeped in history

Café de Miro offers a taste of Kurdish culture.
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Café de Miro's avocado panini comes with a Miro green salad. Photos by Bryan Esler

At Café de Miro, mornings and midday are lovely, comforting and often made to eat right out of the skillet. Husband-and-wife owners Apo Alagoz and Fatosh Alagoz are busy scrambling eggs with a grilled Armenian sausage called sujuk in cute cast-iron skillets or with the traditional Kurdish combination of tomatoes, peppers, garlic and aromatic spices into shakshuka/menemen, a popular Mediterranean breakfast.

Order at the counter — which beckons with a steaming espresso machine, grandmother’s cake du jour perched on a cake stand and many tempting morsels meant to tease your taste buds.

Café de Miro offers a cool, sophisticated atmosphere reminiscent of a Parisian café with two windowed walls bathed in daylight; gorgeous Turkish black, white and gray flooring in large-format tiles; petite round tables; and a sleek banquette running the full length of the bistro-like eatery.

The restaurant’s dining room is bright and offers a variety of seating options.

If you’ve come for Mediterranean, you’re in for a surprise as the food is steeped in Kurdistan, a mountainous region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia, and all of that diversity influences Kurdish cuisine.

Though there are more than 40 million Kurds across the globe, they don’t have an independent state, making them the largest stateless people in the world. So, Apo and Fatosh carry their Kurdish identity in their souls, and their cooking feels quietly important, so much more than food.

“There’s a history of struggle for us, for our rights, to be dignified and recognized,” said Botan Alagoz, the restaurateurs’ 21-year-old son. Two years ago, the family immigrated to Grand Rapids from Istanbul, fleeing the political instability in Turkey and turned their talent for cooking into a family restaurant in Breton Village in May 2019.

Apo, an electrical engineer by trade, also owned a café in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
“With this Café de Miro, we’re ultimately preserving who we are — our language, our traditions, our names and our food,” said Botan, who attends Grand Rapids Community College. “It’s even named after my younger brother, Miro, and Miro means ‘chief of the tribe’ in our language.”

A specialty of Bursa, Turkey, the Gyro Iskender is a wonderful example of Kurdish food, while the kofte, ground beef and lamb meatballs, with a luscious muhammara spread, Miro salad, beet salad and baguette is a vivacious celebration of the unique culture. “Our kofte is similar to the Bosnian cevapi,” said Apo, sharing that the cooking of the Balkan peninsula reverberates with Turkish adaptations.

Café de Miro offers traditional Mediterranean fare, including the lamb gyro.

The Miro Gyro’s lamb is tenderly prepared the Kurdish way with homemade yogurt; the burek savory with ground filo dough and seasoned ground beef; and paninis gooey with gyro, Armenian sausage sujuk, avocado or goat cheese.

The menu posted on a chalkboard behind the counter clearly is influenced by the family’s travels to Sweden, Greece, France and Spain.

“We share food. It is our way,” said Apo, tempting guests with steaming strong Turkish coffee, iced Kurdish tea flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, and Greek frappes, a frothy iced coffee sweetened with sugar.

By channeling pure emotion into every dish — Fatosh created the menu, which calls for fresh everything, including homemade yogurt for her fuchsia-hued beet salad, cool tzatziki cucumber salad as well as marinades for meats. They buy direct from Mediterranean Island at 44th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue for authenticity. From Turkey, they import whole spices and aromatics they believe are fresher, brighter and slightly different.

Start your morning with Café de Miro’s sujuk, an egg and grilled Armenian sausage dish.

In a wood-carved mortar and pestle, Apo crushes coriander seeds, explaining that Turkish “mint is more intense, and Anatolian thyme is completely different than thyme here.”

The Miro salad, fresh with chopped kale and green lettuce, radishes, carrots, sunflower seeds, green onions, parsley and gluten-free wafer crackers (from Fresh Thyme), is tossed with an exquisitely fresh lemon vinaigrette — made daily and creating an amazing, big bowl of satisfaction. It’s perfect alone or paired with a bowl of lentils — fattened with chicken, onions and potatoes.

Café de Miro is just right for a relaxed coffee, intimate brunch or cozy lunch, but not so much for larger groups as the majority of the tables seat two. If you’re looking for a dinner date, make it an early one as the restaurant closes at 5 p.m.

This is a destination spot in its own right that feels like you’ve been let in on a well-kept secret. Everything at Café de Miro feels magical, lighter, brighter — definitely so much more than the sum of its many parts.

“This is what we eat at home,” Botan said.

Turkish coffee

At Café de Miro, do try the Turkish coffee if your taste buds crave full-on flavor. In a gorgeous Kutahya Porselen Turkish coffee cup and saucer, Turkish coffee is served steaming hot, thick and sweetened just a bit with a light froth. And just the right amount of heat to let the grounds settle down. These special Turkish cups are called fincan — though they are often mistakenly called demitasse cups.

“This is Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Turkish Coffee, coming from Turkey,” co-owner Apo Alagoz said. “It’s a very famous company. There’s a lot of history behind this coffee. They have a big store in Eminönü with people lined up — always.”

Traditionally, Turkish coffee is brewed in a “cezve,” or Turkish coffee pot. At Café de Miro, both Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Turkish Coffee and cezves are available for purchase.
“You don’t drink this all the way down, but you sip it until you see the grounds” settled at the bottom of the cup, said Botan Alagoz, Apo’s son. He encourages guests to place the saucer over the cup and flip it over for five minutes or so.

“After you wait, when you look inside the cup, you will see that the coffee grains will make a unique ‘fate’ path, and if my mom’s not busy, she will read your fortune. It’s all kind of fun to take a look.”

Make it at home
For each serving, measure out 1 heaped teaspoon of Turkish ground coffee to 1 fincan cupful of cold water and add sugar to taste right into the cezve. Place on the stove and keep at low. Stir thoroughly until you see foam appear on top of the pot. Pour the foamy part of the coffee into the cup. Then return the cezve to the stove and bring the remaining coffee to a boil. Pour that coffee into the cup(s) all the way to the top. Don’t stir the coffee once it’s in the cups in order to not disturb the grounds.

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