Sumela Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant: An oldie but a goodie
By: Davina van Buren, @highpointfoodie
If you live in High Point, chances are you pass Sumela Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant frequently. Located on a prime piece of North Main real estate, Sumela has been a fixture on the High Point restaurant scene for 22 years.
Old-timers may remember when the location opened as Main Street Grill in 1997.
“Back then, we served basic grill items like burgers and sandwiches,” said owner Mehmet Cakal. “But once people found out I was Turkish, they started requesting more authentic dishes. Over the years, we added more Turkish items and Mediterranean food.”
Eventually, the name no longer fit the restaurant’s new focus, so in 2008, Cakal rebranded the business as Sumela Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant. The business is named after Sumela Monastery, a 1,000-year-old Greek Orthodox monastic complex that dramatically clings to a near-sheer cliffside in Cakal’s hometown of Trabzon, Turkey. Guests can see a photo of the monastery on a poster located in the dining room. Its stunning location, perched precariously over the Black Sea, is impressive indeed.
When guests enter Sumela, they are greeted warmly, often by a Cakal family member. Booths line the perimeter of the dining room, and roomy tables fill the interior space. A small but lovely mosaic-patterned lamp lights each table. There’s also an outdoor patio where guests can watch the action on Main Street. (Bonus: the patio is dog- friendly, as the Cakals are avid pet lovers.)
In addition to the aforementioned monastery posters, other artwork featuring scenes from Turkey, a handful of framed newspaper articles and a beautiful hand-knotted carpet grace the walls. Though not quite an open-kitchen concept, guests can catch a glimpse of the chef (usually Mehmet himself) operating the grill in the back.
The restaurant boasts a laid-back vibe and a menu of fresh, healthy food made in small batches. “We do everything fresh and pretty much daily,” Cakal said. For those unfamiliar with Mediterranean cuisine, it is typically heavy on vegetarian fare, fresh vegetables, and lean proteins, as evidenced by Sumela’s diverse menu. “In Turkey, we eat a variety of foods, lots of vegetables and all kinds of meats—but prepared different ways,” Cakal said. “We don’t eat a lot of fried foods.”
Cakal said he enjoys providing healthy food to the community—and he also sees it as an investment. “Our motto is, ‘The customer’s health is our business’—we want to see our guests coming back for a long time.”
Sumela is one of those rare restaurants where both vegetarians and meat-lovers will find their nirvana, and I often take visitors here for that reason. My advice: start with the mixed appetizers to get a sampling of several typical Mediterranean dishes. The colorful platter features hummus, a protein and fiber-rich dip made from mashed chickpeas; baba ganoush, an eggplant purée with lemon juice and garlic; grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, raisins and nuts; and piyaz, a white bean salad with fresh herbs and onion. Another standout appetizer is the lahmacun, a Turkish street food that is similar to flatbread or pizza. At Sumela, the dish consists of ground beef mixed with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, parsley, green pepper and spices atop a fresh-baked crust. Red lentil soup is a menu staple, and you’ll also find approachable favorites such as Greek-style spanakopita and mozzarella sticks. Entrées range from familiar pastas like chicken and eggplant parmigiana to sandwiches and kebabs. Health-conscious diners will appreciate options like the Mediterranean Wrap (hummus, grilled chicken, feta cheese and fresh veggies), the Vegetarian Delight (hummus, falafel and veggies served on pita with homemade yogurt-cucumber sauce) and gyros (thinly-sliced beef and lamb on pita) in the sandwich menu. Another Greek favorite is the chicken souvlaki, which can be served as a sandwich or an entrée.
The star of the show for carnivores is the kebab menu. Guests can order entrées consisting of one protein, or mix it up with a decadent sampler platter. The Sumela Sampler features beef skewers, chicken skewers and köfte (beef meatballs with spices), while the Sultan Platter boasts lamb skewers, beef and lamb kebabs, and gyro. Both dishes are served with rice, piyaz and mixed vegetables.
The menu also offers several salad options and there is typically a daily sandwich and pasta special. Kids and families are always welcome, and an à la carte menu makes it easy to create a customized kid’s meal.
For dessert, think quality, not quantity—Sumela serves a handful of desserts done right. My favorite is the rice pudding, which is exactly what it sounds like. The creamy concoction of rice, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon is perfect for those averse to cloyingly sweet final courses. Other options include baklava, cheesecake, tiramisu and a decadent chocolate cake. Paired with a strong Turkish coffee, this is the perfect way to end your meal.
Back in 2015, a car crashed into the restaurant, forcing Cakal to close Sumela for six months for renovations. Thankfully, no one was hurt. “We found out how much people really care about us,” he said. “People were asking about the reopening every day on our Facebook page, calling the health department, and FOX 8 was giving updates every month—it made me feel good.”
In his 22 years on this block, Cakal has seen a lot. “When we first opened, High Point had more manufacturing jobs,” he said. “Since High Point University has grown, it’s brought a lot of new people and opportunities for local businesses.” He’s also gained worldwide fans who’ve discovered the restaurant during the twice-yearly furniture market. “I’ve seen good markets, slow markets, happy people and unhappy people over the years,” Cakal said. “It used to be two weeks, and now it’s just five days. It’s changed a lot of business strategies.”
With ambitious redevelopment plans in full swing, Cakal is looking forward to serving the High Point community for many years to come. And he’s staying true to the city’s blue-collar roots. “We are not fancy, and we’re not upscale,” he said. “When people come here, they don’t come for the look—they come for the food and hospitality.”
Sumela Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant is located at 805 N. Main St. in High Point and is open Monday-Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.