It seems to be a little known fact in America that Middle Eastern nations are home to some of the world’s most talented bakers, and, locally, exhibit A of that argument is the wealth of Lebanese bakeries along Warren Avenue in Dearborn. For decades, they have reigned with savory dishes like sfeeha, or meat pies.
But head a little further west down Warren into Garden City and you’ll find the latest evidence of that truth: Simit House, a small Turkish bakery in a strip mall that offers some of the region’s only glimpses of the nation’s cuisine.
Sondus Assaf and her family opened the shop just as the pandemic hit, and it not only quickly drew in neighbors, but also Turkish-Americans from around the state who began driving as far as two hours for a visit. In Turkey, Assaf says, bakeries are common, and she learned and honed the craft for decades before opening her store.
Turkey is a bit of a crossroads of civilizations, and one can see French influences, as well as similarities with baked goods in the Levant. Assaf does everything from scratch, uses organic ingredients as much as possible, and frequently relies on the power of sautéed onion and bell peppers in her savory plates.
Among the best options is the pogaca, a light, airy, and spongy savory pastry that holds a small amount of filling like feta and spinach or cream cheese with dill baked into the dough. It’s the dough that does the heavy lifting on the pogaca, and, like the best pastries out there, its success owes a great deal to its texture.
Turkish borek is a different game than the Bosnian burek that I’m used to in Hamtramck. These are roughly 10-inch tubes composed of laminated dough that’s soft with a slightly flaky and crisp shell. Like the pogaca, it really highlights Turkey’s killer dough game. One should first go for the spinach, onion, and cheese version, which is sour from the liberal application of sumac and moist from the vegetables and olive oil. The meat filling offers beef sauteed with onions, bell peppers, parsley, and paprika — fragrant and deeply flavorful. But the one that really sang was the potato filling that’s like mashed potatoes with fried onion, bell pepper, and parsley. Though the feta and parsley option was tasty, it was a bit on the dry side.
The mini pide (pita) is a tiny dough canoe gorged with minced meat that’s mixed with sauteed onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley, and red pepper paste, and is awesome. Another version has a salty mix of feta, mozzarella, and parsley.
The long pide is the same soft vessel but comes as an elongated, thin flatbread, and the chicken and cheese version holds a super tender bird that falls apart, spreading out across the bread and melding texturally with bits of red pepper and the thick cheese coating. Assaf notes that she fries small, organic chickens with onion, bell peppers, and oregano, which helps keep the meat tender. It’s hard not to think of a thin-crust pizza when eating a long pide, and an employee even described one of its cheese covered flatbreads as “basically a pizza,” but these aren’t textures and flavors that you’ll find at the corner pizzeria. Other options include meat, spinach, za’atar, egg and cheese, and more.
A simit is a quintessential Turkish bread — circular, twisted, and coated in golden sesame seed. It’s soft and slightly chewy, and is served plain, though it goes well with cream cheese or preserves, so it’s no surprise that it’s sometimes billed as a “Turkish bagel.” Simit House also offers simit sandwiches with cucumbers, tomato, and feta. Similar to the simit is the acma, another circular bread that’s again called a “Turkish bagel,” though it’s much softer and a bit flakier.
On the sweeter end, Simit’s baklava is better than most that I’ve had, but don’t miss the almond-adorned pastry shaped like a crescent moon that’s similar to borek and effectively filled with brownie batter.
The bakery also offers a selection of Turkish grocery items and a fridge filled with to-go items. Due to the pandemic, Simit is carryout-only for now. Note that the menu changes daily and largely depends on what kind of help is available, though some of the core items are always in stock. Like many other restaurants, Simit is struggling to find help, so be patient, and get there early before they sell out.