It was the worst start of a taxi adventure so far in Berlin. I’d gone down the entire line of cabs waiting at the taxi stand in front of the Adlon Hotel near Brandenburg Gate. No driver wanted any part in my food quest.
I cursed my horrible German – I knew things would be different if I could speak the language. I tried to hide my discouragement when a lady driver with silver hair shooed me away. Before I could start fantasizing about trading road stories with her, she took one look at me and said “nein.”
I waited a few minutes, eyeing the tourists pouring into the Starbuck’s on Pariser Platz, dodging cyclists on their way to Tiergarten, Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park, on a road that was once blocked by the Berlin Wall.
I was almost ready to give up when Mesut pulled up. I walked to his driver’s side window and took a deep breath. His English was amazing. He said “yes” when I asked him to take me to his favorite place to eat – he was so matter-of-fact about it! He suggested Hasir, where I’ve eaten twice already (thanks to two Berliner cabbies).
As much as I loved the idea of attacking a dish full of Hasir’s kunefe, I wanted to try something different. We tried to figure out where we were going while we drove past the cafes on Unter-den-Linden.
Eventually we headed to Kreuzberg, where the cabbie grew up, where he lives with his wife and two kids, where his parents – “who only speak Turkish” – moved a generation ago.
On the way, Mesut admitted that he’s one of a select group of Berlin cabbies who enjoys driving a taxi, even if it means he doesn’t have time to do the Taekwondo that he grew up practicing (He got so good at it that he traveled to Korea with a German martial arts delegation as a teenager).After he dropped me off at Adana Grill Haus – which specializes in the food from his wife’s region of Turkey – I realized I forgot to ask the cabbie if he’s ever used his Taekwondo on the job. But I remembered to ask him what to order: adana kebab and kuzu pirzola (lamb chops).
If you go to Adana Grill Haus, the first thing you’ll notice is the 6-foot grill right off the entrance, where its master tends meat and heats flat bread before your eyes. Sort of like a sushi bar, Turkish style.
I admired the vegetables at the cold station – tomatoes, eggplants and bunches of flat leaf parsley so fresh they glowed – while I watched the grill master squeeze adana kebab (ground lamb with red peppers and chili) onto a metal skewer and slap salt and pepper onto lamb chops before laying them over the fire.
I inhaled smoke and listened to the sizzle of fat dripping onto charcoal while the meat cooked – and I thought of the steak houses of Buenos Aires. A glass of ayran and a delicious plate of acili ezme (4 euros), eggplant relish with olive oil and red chilies that made my eyes water, brought me back to Berlin.
By the time the grill master finished with it, the adana kebab (9 euros) was flavorful but a little dry. I could taste his skills in the lamb chops (12 euros), though. They were perfect: juicy, pink, and cooked to the point where the fat had melted through the meat.
I liked them even better with acili ezme and yogurt (At Adana, they serve a brand called Enfes Yogurdu, and it’s the best I’ve tasted in Berlin so far. Buy it if you see it in a Turkish grocery store – and please tell me where you found it).
Berlin’s cabbies may be leading me to more Turkish than German food, but if it tastes this good, who cares?
Adana Grill Haus
Manteuffelstr 86 – 10997, Kreuzberg
Tel. 030 612 7790
Open: Every day from 11am-5am (great for cabbies)
Would I go back? Definitely. I’d skip adana kebab and go straight to kuzu pirzola (lamb chops) with acili ezme and yogurt on the side.