Turkish sausage and eggs served with a breakfast plate and tea at Borek-G in Falls Church, Va. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Borek-G owes its existence to luck, and I mean that in the most literal sense. About 20 years ago, Dilek Kaygusuz got the chance to start life anew in America when she and her family were selected as part of the Diversity Visa Program, a State Department initiative commonly known by its applicants as the “green card lottery.”
Kaygusuz was middle-aged when she hit the jackpot. Her oldest boy was a teenager, and her twin sons just 6. Huseyin Kaygusuz still remembers his first Halloween with his twin brother, Hasan, in Fairfax County.
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“We just lost our minds,” Huseyin recalls. “We had all this candy. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, whoa, this is a different country!’ This is a country with a surplus of extra stuff. As long as you work for it, you can go get it.”
This philosophy, more or less, has guided the Kaygusuz family as they navigated their new country without, at first, the benefit of any English language skills. The older members took odd jobs: Dilek worked in bakeries or at a nail salon; her husband, Erol, worked housekeeping at the Watergate; their oldest son, Serkan, delivered pizza for Papa John’s. But in 2008, Dilek stepped out on her own and started setting up booths at farmers markets to sell a selection of her dips and pastries, including the flaky coils of stuffed phyllo dough known as borek. At the peak, Dilek was preparing food for more than seven farmers markets a week.
Last year was supposed to be different for Dilek and Huseyin, who serves as operations manager, host, server and guardian angel over his mom at Borek-G. They were opening their first bricks-and-mortar shop in a smoky-gray structure on Maple Avenue, where mother and son would serve Turkish breakfasts, pastries, pita sandwiches and more. But you know what happened, and like so many others during the pandemic, Borek-G had to pivot, which is why you’ll now find shelves stocked with Turkish jams and teas; freezers filled with beef doner, sujuk sausages and other meats; and a refrigerated case packed with fresh produce.
Life has not returned to normal, of course, but Borek-G is starting to return to its original purpose. You can now order a Turkish breakfast, as I did one humid Sunday in August while sitting on the patio, its view mostly residential despite being located just a block off a commercial corridor.
I ordered the eggs and Turkish sausage plate, which features a scramble of fluffy curds and thick slices of sujuk sausage, their rendered juices pooled at the bottom of a small copper bowl. The breakfast also includes a second, petal-shaped plate, sectioned off into compartments like a cafeteria tray, which is loaded with olives, sliced cucumber and tomato, personal containers of brand-name cheese, fresh feta, a shallow well of honey, and two toasty lengths of Turkish flatbread. How you mix and match the ingredients — sweet honey and salty feta on soft bread is pure gold — is altogether personal, but washing it down with tea (a blend of Earl Grey and Turkish black tea) is mandatory.
The doner pita sandwich is mandatory, too. Its combination of beef and lamb is not sliced from a rotisserie, the fat slowly rendering with each turn, but instead is run through a deli slicer, which leaves a sliver of softened fat along the top of each ribbon of meat, sort of like brisket. Tucked into a warm pita with lettuce and a generous drizzle of cacik (a housemade yogurt dip infused with mint, garlic, dill and cucumber), the slices are a sensuous swirl of savory, tart and herbal flavors, impossible to separate in a single bite.
The menu remains a work in progress as Dilek and Huseyin decide how much they can manage while the business continues to grow. They’re looking to open a beer garden in the back of the shop, where Huseyin would love to install a charcoal grill so they can cook kebabs as they do back home in Ankara. Mom and son recently secured a liquor license, too, and Huseyin has already been reviewing the options for Turkish beer, wine and raki, a brandy-like spirit distilled twice from grapes and aniseed, commonly called “lion’s milk” among its adherents.
Borek-G doesn’t technically offer mezze, that spread of snacks and dips traditional to the Turkish table. But in a pinch, you can simply wander over to the coolers in back and pick out a selection of Dilek’s takeaway products — hummus, cacik, avocado salad, whatever — and pop open the containers right at your table. With an order of fresh pita at the ready, it’s not a bad way to enjoy Borek-G.
But I’d encourage you to broaden your idea of lunch or dinner. One afternoon I sat in front of a TV screen that was streaming a mouthwatering program about Istanbul street foods, and decided to follow its lead. I ordered a spinach-and-feta borek, its outer shell sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. I paired it with gozleme, these floppy squares of griddled yufka flatbread stuffed with a seasoned mixture of ground beef, onions, green peppers and tomatoes. I finished it with a few individual bites of Dilek’s homemade baklava, dusted with a verdant layer of crushed pistachios. It was a brief tour of Turkish handheld food, and I could not have been happier.
There’s a reason Dilek and Huseyin call their place Borek-G, and only part of it has to do with pastries so fragile they flake apart in your hand. The name is a phonetic spelling of the Turkish word börekçi, which translates to the “maker of borek” in English. So every time you say “Borek-G,” you are invoking Dilek Kaygusuz’s job description, which is sly all by itself. But this mother and son have also taught you to speak Turkish without your even realizing it, which is unspeakably cool.
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