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Turkish Delight at Frankfort Takeout

Full rack of ribs, side of cole slaw, baked beans, and a beer. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

Mediterranean food on the bay

“You know what I wish? I wish Benzie had a Mediterranean restaurant.” How often have you had that conversation, ending with a wistful sigh? Good news: wishes do come true. Frankfort Takeout, the brainchild of Serkan Erginkara—Turkish born and fed—opened this winter.

If you go into Frankfort Takeout expecting burgers, hotdogs, and fries, you’re in for a surprise (except for the hotdog part—Erginkara originally put the “Weird Dog,” the Turkish version of the American classic, on his menu to test for summer, and a group of Weird Dog regulars have convinced him to keep it).

What you will find at Frankfort Takeout is a range of subtly flavored kabobs, salads, and soups, some traditional Turkish and others from Erginkara’s creative imagination.

Erginkara “cooks from the heart,” not for the paycheck. He wants every dish to be perfect. He begins early on restaurant days, grinding his own meat, chopping vegetables, mixing dressings, and preparing kabobs on huge skewers that were shipped from Turkey because he can’t get them in this country. He uses only fresh ingredients. Getting ready for the day’s meals, he is in constant motion. In what seems like no time at all he has chopped a mountain of parsley—his favorite green—stopping to stir a huge pot of lentil soup that is simmering on the stove. The soup is on the lunch menu, but if you are lucky, there may still be some left at dinner.

Serkan Erginkara cooks up a pre-ordered lunch. He also takes orders on the fly, over the phone and via Facebook. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker

Serkan Erginkara cooks up a pre-ordered lunch. He also takes orders on the fly, over the phone and via Facebook. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker

Erginkara came to cooking young, when he was 12 years old. His family’s business was construction, mainly drilling water wells, which meant that he was on the road much of the time, living out of a camper wherever there was a job. Someone had to cook so Erginkara stepped up. This started the trajectory of his parallel life track that kept him connected to food in one form or another, as well as drilling wells all over the world. In fact, his construction company is a U.S. Department of Defense contractor, drilling wells in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some for the U.S. Embassy in Basrah, Iraq, just last summer. But Erginkara’s real passions are cooking and food.

Though he describes himself as self-taught, there is more to it than that—as with many great chefs, Erginkara’s mother loves to cook. He grew up with home-cooked, traditional Turkish food that was always made with fresh ingredients. Bread is a staple in Turkish cuisine, and Erginkara’s mother made it fresh for breakfast and again for dinner. She still lives in Turkey and speaks with her son every day. Food is what they talk about. Not only do they compare notes on recipes, but she helps him to scout out the best sources for the Turkish spices that he uses to make his food so authentic.

While still in Turkey, Erginkara gained even more food-related experience by running a restaurant and bar. But what really helped him to make the transition from cook to chef was working for three years as a sous-chef to the executive chef at the San Antonio Country Club in Texas. By the time he left there, Erginkara had learned much about the world of food and had formed a solid base from which to keep growing as a professional chef.

Moving to Frankfort was a family decision. His wife, Jeri, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel (next time you pick up a prescription at Corner Drug of Frankfort, you may want to salute or at least stand up straighter) vacationed in Frankfort, because her mother was born and raised here. Jeri moved here first with their daughter, Helen, while Erginkara travelled with the construction projects. He moved here permanently a year ago and became the lead line cook at Crystal Mountain’s Thistle Pub & Grille, where he creates featured dishes. The popularity of his food, plus his desire to work for himself, inspired Erginkara to open Frankfort Takeout. First, he used his family and neighbors as focus group test-tasters to decide on his menu and to perfect the recipes that he wanted to use. How lucky for his family and neighbors—the food is amazing.

When asked which dish is his favorite, Erginkara describes them as one would his own children: he loves all equally (which is how it should be when love of good food is such a critical ingredient in every dish). Erginkara is assisted by Desiree on some days and Jess on others—helpers who arrive just before the lunch crowd. Erginkara works with each like surgeon and nurse, but instead of calling for “scalpel and sutures,” it’s “cabbage and orzo.”

Most of the dishes take 20 minutes to prepare. An order arrives, and a mental timer starts ticking in Erginkara’s head. He doesn’t look at a clock, he just knows. Kabobs are molded from freshly seasoned meat and put in the oven. Other ingredients, chopped, grated, or otherwise prepared that morning, are pulled from the fridge. Vegetables or chicken go into the frying pan and are seared in sometimes foot-high flames, tossed with what looks like “it’s all in the wrist” precision. Quick check on what’s in the oven. Just-dressed salad goes into the take-out container. Twenty minutes are nearly over; out comes whatever is in the oven, straight into the container, and out to the customer.

Erginkara’s ability to produce many freshly prepared meals in such a short time rests on him starting prep work early that morning and a systematic lay-out of tools, oils, lemon juice, seasonings, and containers. Does he take a break on restaurant days? Yep. He often ducks out for a half-hour of fishing—one of the many joys of being a chef in Frankfort.

Serkan plans to expand his hours this summer. The staff at Crystal Mountain are supportive of his plans and accommodate his schedule. Drop by, call or text ahead (231-930-8009) for absolutely delicious food.

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